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Abuse of women in news media global

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Report reveals the global abuse of women in news media and a feeling of impunityReports of a climate of impunity and that reporting abuse made the situation worse.

The London-based International News Safety Institute (INSI) and the Washington DC-based International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) ran a survey from August 2013 to January 2014 ‘to gauge the nature and frequency of [the] types of violations’ experienced by women journalists.

While the number of journalists killed in 2013 was lower than in 2012, ‘the number of journalists subjected to assault, threat or attack, [whether] physical, verbal or digital, shows no sign of abating’.

And because of their gender, women journalists are subject to additional threats.

Gender-specific threats range from biases towards what topics are appropriate for women to cover to cultural norms that ostracise, or worse, women who perform the most basic tasks of their profession such as speaking to (male) sources and questioning the status quo.

Most worrying is that ‘the survey found that the majority of threats, intimidation and abuse directed towards respondents occurred in the work place and was perpetrated most often by male bosses, supervisors and co-workers.’

As is well-documented in cases of violence and harassment against women, ‘most incidents were never reported, even though a majority of women who experienced them said they were psychologically affected.’

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said they had experienced acts of intimidation, threats and abuse in relation to their work.

More than one-fifth (21.6 per cent) of respondents said they had experienced physical violence, and approximately one-third of those respondents reported the incident(s).

Of the 14 per cent of survey respondents who said they had experienced sexual violence, only 19 per cent reported it.

Nearly half of respondents had experienced sexual harassment, but less than one-fifth of those reported the incident(s).

Many women reported a lifetime of sexual harassment on the job, using the word ‘ongoing’ and suggesting that it is a routine aspect of working in the news media industry.

Sadly, the overwhelming majority of responses to the question ‘What was the outcome of reporting the intimidation, threats and abuse?’ alluded to ‘a climate of impunity.’

Some women were told to stop complaining, others were told to ‘grow up’ and others said they regretted reporting the abuse.

Responses to reports of violence and harassment ‘ranged from nothing changing to [the women reporting abuse] being forced out of a job.’

Because war zones and hostile environments are the assumed places for occurrences of violence and harassment, it is even more disturbing that survey respondents say the majority of the harassment and intimidation they experience occurs in the workplace.

And with the recent years of economic upset largely affecting women’s jobs and support services for women, the number of freelancers in many industries, including the media, has risen.

So add being a freelance journalist to being a woman and many professionals are made doubly vulnerable.

A BBC report into journalism safety in January 2014 said that ‘News editors, faced with dwindling budgets and a 24-hour news culture, rely on freelancers’ contributions more than ever before.’

Yet freelancers often lack the formal support of a large news agency.

After decades of such a notorious lack of support for freelancers, particularly in conflict and war zones, Vaughan Smith of the UK’s Frontline Club started the Frontline Freelance Register (FFR) in summer 2013.

It is run by freelancers, for freelancers, and it aims to provide foreign and conflict journalists with representation and a sense of community, vital in such a fragmented profession.

While the safety of journalists continues to attract more and more international support and effort, it is still far too little too late for the many who have already died in the line of duty.

Attendees at the BBC’s Safety of Journalists Symposium in April this year discussed ‘the importance of supporting families of killed journalists’ and the need to use court prosecution as a deterrent for future attacks.

Earlier this month, two experienced women Associated Press journalists were shot by an Afghan police officer; the photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who died almost immediately from head wounds, and journalist Kathy Gannon, who required surgery.

While discussion is less helpful than action, official conversations are at least making steps in the right direction.

But, as a statement issued by many of the attendees at the BBC’s Safety of Journalists Symposium in April 2014 said, ‘It is an affront to justice that in recent times fewer than one in ten of all killings of journalists have resulted in convictions for the perpetrators.’

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