Although homosexuality remains a sensitive issue in conservative societies, as it does elsewhere in the Balkans, media reporting on LGBTIQ topics in these countries was not full of disinformation and hate speech.
Throughout September 2021, DebunkEU.org analyzed 403 articles on LGBTIQ topics from highly diversified Montenegrin, Serbian, and Bosnian media, such as established news websites from these countries, right-leaning outlets, tabloids, etc.
The coverage dynamics were stable, but information activity related to the LGBTIQ topic peaked in the second week of September when the LGBTIQ Pride parade was held in Belgrade.
These events triggered a discussion and intense reporting in the media, yet most of the articles related to this topic did not contain problematic narratives. Hate speech against LGBTIQ community is more often encountered in user-generated platforms (e.g., social media, blogs, forums) and comment sections of the news websites, but DebunkEU.org did not cover this type of communication through this monthly analysis.
For the purposes of this research, sentiment is defined as a tone of article towards the object of the analysis; the data showed that over 45 percent of analyzed articles had a neutral sentiment.
It means that this content is primarily informative (news, press release, neutral statement, etc.). Also, it means that the content without problematic narratives and malign influence on the readers had the highest reach. During the timeframe of the analysis, over 32 percent of articles were positive, and 21 negative. Also, articles with a negative sentiment had a minor reach.
Most of the publications from analyzed media contained a neutral narrative “Public figures support gay pride”, especially in the media reporting about the Gay Pride. However, in a smaller percentage of analyzed articles, homosexuality was presented as a disease and LGBTIQ people were portrayed as sick. With hostile narratives targeting the LGBTIQ community, other messages were spread, mainly focusing on Western support to LGBTIQ activities and the Pride Parade.
Although a small percentage of the media published articles with problematic narratives, the most read texts refer to the anti-globalization protest organized in mid-September in Belgrade, during which LGBTIQ community members were insulted. Four out of the top 10 articles sorted by social media interactions represent reports from the anti-globalization protest, while four articles contain information from the Gay Pride organized in Belgrade.
Neutral communication, limited effect
LGBTIQ communication is competitive, having neutral and/or pro-LGBTIQ narratives on the one side and anti-LGBTIQ rhetoric on the other side. Yet, measured both by the intensity 403 and a potential impact (DebunkReach®) it can be established that anti-LGBTIQ rhetoric comprises only up to a tenth (13%) of all communication on the topic and thus has a limited capacity to affect larger audiences of interest. It suggests that the general audience is less exposed to falsehoods on LGBTIQ topics and that anti-LGBTIQ messaging in Montenegro tends to circulate in socially-closed clusters/echo chambers.
Anti-LGBTQI rhetoric was absent throughout the first half of September and intensified only during the Pride parade in Belgrade and several days after the event. It shows that communication actors who engage in anti-LGBTQI messaging tend to exploit the significance of public events for their communication, thus potentially seeking to increase the visibility of such content as much as possible.
Pop singer as a dominant spokesperson
Some articles that contained information about LGBTIQ rights or activities used various spokespeople. These people are mainly promoters or supporters of LGBTIQ activities. Namely, Serbian pop singer Nataša Bekvalac appeared to be a dominant spokesperson in 19 articles. Nataša Bekvalac as a dominant spokesperson, had the most significant reach during this month, yielding a total of 3.7 million DebunkReach® contacts.
Also, the list of ’spokesperson by reach’ includes other singers from Serbia (Jelena Kareuša, Sara Jo) who supported the Pride Parade. It means that politicians rarely comment on sensitive issues such as the LGBTIQ and that the media gives more space to celebrities who are willing to speak publicly on this problem in the Balkans countries.
Rare hate speech without stereotypes
Through more than 400 articles were analyzed, elements offensive and hate speech were found in only four publications. These texts referred to the cases when anti-vaxxers set fire to the LGBTIQ flag in Belgrade, and homophobic comments related to the same event.
Inflammatory content is not usually published in tabloid outlets. This could be explained by the fact that disseminating such content is regulated by the country's national provisions, which entail legal responsibility for publishers if they decide to publicize discriminatory content.
This analysis was carried out through a project financed by the German Federal Government.