Example 6: Contesting hate speech against drug users 

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization

Harm Reduction International
London, England
Email: info@ihra.net
Website:  http://www.ihra.net/

Irish Needle Exchange Forum
Ireland
E-mail: info@inef.ie
Website:  http://inef.ie/

CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign
Dublin, Ireland
E-mail:  info@citywide.ie
Website:  http://www.citywide.ie/

Harm Reduction International (HRI), the Irish Needle Exchange Forum, and the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign work to provide services for drug users, their families and their communities. They also provide accurate information on drug use to policy makers and battle the stigma against drug users that exists in Ireland.

The Problem

Ian O’Doherty wrote an article for the Irish Independent in which he described drug users as “vermin,” “feral worthless scumbags,” and proclaimed “if every junkie in this country were to die tomorrow [,] I would cheer.”

Actions Taken

HRI, the Irish Needle Exchange Forum and the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign filed a joint complaint with the Irish Press Ombudsman against the Irish Independent for publishing Mr. O’Doherty’s article. The complainants argued that the article violated Principles 1.1 and 8 of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.

Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines

Principle 1.1: “In reporting news and information, newspapers shall strive at all times for truth and accuracy.

Principle 8: “Newspapers and magazines shall not publish intended or likely to cause grave offense or stir up hatred against individual or group on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, colour, ethnic origin, membership of the travelling community, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness or age.

Results and Lessons Learned 

Hate Speech:
The Irish Press Ombudsman found that the article “was likely to cause grave offense to or stir up hatred against individuals or groups addicted to drugs on the basis of their illness.” The Independent published hate speech, which the Ombudsman would not allow under Ireland’s Principle 8.

Duty of the Press.
The Ombudsman determined that it did not have enough information to rule on the Principle 1 claim, however was clear that journalist and the press—as having an important role in contributing ideas and discourse necessary to a functioning democracy—must report the facts accurately. This obligation extends beyond Ireland to all countries in Europe.

Commentary and Analysis 

This case study demonstrates that public expression of stigma against drug users can be categorized as hate speech. These types of comments fuel negative and oppressive attitudes towards drug users. Fighting against this level of hate speech will help change societal attitudes and work to eliminate the stigma attached to drug users.

The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also allows for states parties to restrict expression for the purpose of prohibiting hate speech. State parties are permitted to limit hate speech “for respect of the rights or reputations of others” under ICCPR article 19(3)(a). Advocacy groups may consider utilizing the human rights committee complaint mechanism or country review process to bring attention to hate speech against drug users in an effort to affect societal attitudes.