September update: Trolls’ vitriol silencing journalists (INSI)

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There are many ways of silencing the media, but a new and alarming trend that’s on the rise is online abuse against journalists – specifically women.

Trolls no longer reside in slimy pits under bridges, but lurk behind keyboards vomiting vitriol in an unprecedented threat to freedom of speech. A single tweet, email or comment can result in reporters fearing for their lives, censoring their work or even leaving the profession entirely.

Earlier this month, at an OSCE discussion on digital threats against female journalists, I was shocked as I listened to brave reporters read out a small selection of the rape threats and death threats they receive on a regular basis as a result of their work. They told numerous stories of colleagues who had shut down their social media accounts and stopped writing when personal information about them appeared online.

Journalists with seemingly uncontroversial beats such as technology and culture complained they no longer felt safe. One was even forced to move state and change her career when a white supremacist group posted her address on the internet.

Journalist safety is no longer left to those working in conflict zones to contemplate. Threats arrive online and offline and have a devastating impact on society as intimidated journalists begin to censor their work or, as a result of psychological trauma, are forced to find new jobs.

Tunisia training

Digital safety was among the topics featured at INSI’s two-day training course held this month in Tunis, Tunisia. We trained 15 local and international journalists on how to adapt to the changing safety landscape in a country, and region, that has become increasingly unsafe for media workers.

Journalists told INSI about being threatened and their homes broken into. International and local journalists doing investigative stories have even been arrested, course participants said.

Multimedia

In our latest podcast, ex-INSI director Rodney Pinder emphasises the importance of instilling a culture of journalist safety at the grassroots level and asks if news organisations are doing enough to protect their employees. He questions whether reporters are being sent “naked” into dangerous situations as some news outlets still aren’t providing the necessary safety equipment.

Building a culture of journalist safety

Also this month, in conjunction with the International Press Institute and Al Jazeera, INSI brought together a number of media safety experts in London to discuss a new set of safety guidelines and an international safety declaration that will be presented at the World Media Summit in Qatar in November. The global effort aims to promote a culture of safety within the media industry both by raising awareness among journalists about international standards of safety and recognising best practices in the newsroom for protecting journalists.

“We are looking at three groups of stakeholders: journalists, who should be aware that no story is worth their lives; media organisations, which should never send journalists on assignments if they are not entirely sure they are prepared for them; and state institutions, which should end impunity in crimes against journalists,” said IPI executive board member and World Press Freedom Hero Daoud Kuttab.

Next month INSI will hold its AGM at 09:30 at the Berlin Conference Centre on the 28 October. If you are interested in attending, please email info@newssafety.org.

Anna Bevan is INSI’s assistant director. 

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