Violence against women journalists is not new, whether they stay at home or work outside, no place is considered safe for them. One such issue of violence has been noticed recently by the United Nations against women Journalists.
Journalism is one of the important pillars of the society as it is making the general public aware about the events of the world. Regardless of their such an important service, the journalists are always criticized and in the worst scenario they are subjected to violence.
If it is observed carefully, then it can be seen that although both male and female journalists are exposed to violence and their safety in retaliation for their work, attacks on the women are gender-based and highly sexualized online and offline.
According to United Nations expert on freedom of opinion and expression, women journalists are subjected to all types of threats and attacks in the course of their work just for being journalists.
Whether its rape, sexual assault, death and rape threats or sexual harassment to trolling, gendered hate speech, disinformation, smear campaigns and threats to family members- only women journalists are the prime targets.
From hateful comments on news websites to death threats on social media, female journalists globally experience a range of online violence.
The United Nations (UN) Secretary General and UN Women have adopted the term online violence together with the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women to describe threats in online environments against women journalists.
It has been observed that the gender-based violence does not only impact the women who experience it directly, but it also influences those who view it from the outside.
The threats of harm are often connected to the families, sources and audiences of the targeted women journalists, as a means of causing a chilling effect on their journalism.
International Federation of Journalists(IFJ)
The IFJ is the world’s largest organization of journalists, representing media professionals in more than 140 countries.
Pamela Morinière, head of the Communications and Campaigns department and Gender officer at the IFJ states that the psychological impact of online violence is unforeseeable.
According to the IFJ Survey results 64% of women journalists have been a victim of online harassment. It also states that the aim of gender based online violence is silencing the voices of women journalists.
Talking about the freelance journalists who are working for different media outlets without a permanent editorial office Morinière says that, they especially need social media to profile themselves and promote their journalistic work. If they can’t do that anymore, they become invisible.
She added, “Harassment should never be a part of anyone’s job. We cannot undermine the consequences this ‘chilling effect’ has on others, which can discourage other women from participating in journalism”
What does various surveys tell?
In a survey of 2014, it was found that the majority of threats, intimidation and abuse directed towards respondents occurred in the workplace and was perpetrated by male bosses, supervisors and co-workers.
It has been reported that most incidents of harassment and violence were never reported, even though the majority of women who experienced them said they were psychologically affected.
In 2018, the International Women’s Media Foundation and TrollBusters published a report on attacks and harassment against women journalists, based on a survey of almost 600 women journalists. The survey respondents stated that online attacks have become more visible and coordinated in the past five years.
In fact the reports conclude that gender-based violence is not only common but also shockingly increasing with time across platforms with very few measures adopted to curb these targeted attacks.
A report, titled “Press Freedom Status for Women Journalists: October 2021”, documented 40 such cases across the world. The organization found that physical assault, organised troll campaigns and legal harassments are the leading trends in violations against women journalists.
Cases documented from several countries including the United States, Kazakhstan, Italy, Canada, Turkey, and Russia showed that 11 women journalists were killed in 2021.
At least 19 women journalists were physically assaulted in Turkey, Italy, Kosovo and Palestine in the month of October 2022, six were targeted with organized troll campaigns in Canada and Pakistan, and seven were legally harassed in Russia and Turkey. However, India did not feature in the report.
Violence Report Against Women Journalists
A paper published titled ‘The Chilling: A global study of online violence against women journalists‘, reveals that online violence against female journalists is one of the most serious global threats to press freedom and has contributed to murders of female reporters.
The report pointed out that female journalists, irrespective of their nationality, have been attacked, trolled, and harassed on social media platforms for every single word they spoke or wrote, and their gender makes them the primary targets for the harassment.
Threats of physical violence, including death threats, were identified by 25% and sexual violence by 18%. And 13% described threats of violence against those close to them, including children and infants. Almost 48% of the female journalists surveyed reported being harassed with unwanted private social media messages.
Further it has been disclosed that female journalists also face networked and planned disinformation by agencies, sources and even the public to keep them at bay from reporting critically and rising above in their professional arenas.
The paper gives a horrid account of the plight of female journalists revealing that women in this profession have been subjected to brutal attacks of slut-shaming, victim-blaming and name-calling.
Article 19 is an international human rights organization that works to defend and promote freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide.
It states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Silvia Chocarro, Head of Protection Journalists & Human Rights Defenders at the international human rights organization stresses that “online harassment and abuse against women journalists is not only about silencing journalism, it is about silencing women. This is why addressing the issue in the long term requires to put in place and implement strong gender equality and non-discrimination policies.”
Chocarro is one of the authors of a 2020 OSCE report on the Safety of Female Journalists Online, which proposes ten steps that should be taken to tackle the issue.
Impact of Violence on Women Journalists
Julie Posetti, Global Director of Research at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), said that the general risk of women journalists to fall victim to sexual harassment and assault is a pattern replicated in the digital sphere.
She says, “We see exponential attacks on women journalists, particularly at the intersection of hate speech and disinformation. Online violence is the new frontline in journalism safety.”
She also concluded that there are evidences of direct links between online violence and offline attacks.
According to her, threats of physical and sexual assault, murder and digital security attacks often involve very real psychological impacts and injuries, even if they are not actually carried out.
She stressed that “Dating back five years indicates women journalists are withdrawing from frontline reporting, removing themselves from public online conversations, quitting their jobs and evening abandoning journalism in response to their experience of online violence.”
Posetti calls it ‘a genuine freedom of expression crisis‘, as the records of last few years show that the increasing rates of the violence will mute the female voices.
The murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is one of the most alarming case of online violence converting into physical attacks. She was investigating the murder of Maltese, for which Daphene was harassed both physically and psychologically, and finally was murdered in an explosion caused by a car bomb in 2017. To this day, the fight for justice in the case continues.
Carole Cadwalladr, an award-winning investigative Guardian and Observer journalist, exposed how the personal data belonging to millions of Facebook users was secretly collected by British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, largely for political advertising. She was the target of 10,400 separate instances of obvious abuse between December 2019 and January 2021.
Violence against women journalists is a global concern which threats the women journalists all over the world. Not only physical attacks but now the journalists are more prone to the online attacks.
The recent research found that nearly three quarters of the female journalists surveyed had experienced online violence in the course of their work. It has been concluded that the COVID pandemic has worsened the scenario of the online harassments of women journalists.