Online Violence to Women Journalists

Over the years online, violence toward women journalists has been increasing significantly and uncontrollably in many corners of the globe while producing outlets. One of the reasons is the wide use of internet and the different social platforms.

As a woman and journalist, I have an interest to read and hear about stories that involve colleagues from all around, thus, I follow on social media several journalistic centers, foundations or organizations. The more I read, I realize that online violence has become a major issue in many countries, specially covering the pandemic, social-political manifestation, or corruption of state, etc. 

But what is online violence?

According to a report, A/HRC38/47 from the United National Against Women Violence it “extends to any act of gender-based violence against women that is committed, assisted or aggravated in part or fully by the use of information and communications technology (ICT), such as mobile phones and smartphones, the Internet, social media platforms or email, against a woman because she is a woman, or affects women disproportionately” (p.7).

So how many types of online violence exists? The same report mentioned that the range of violence vary from insults, threats, to death; and it can take one of these forms.

  • Cyberbullying;
  • Trolling: trolls post comments to try to provoke controversy;
  • Doxxing: online researching and publishing of private information about a person in order to cause them harm;
  • Obsessive online stalking (cyberstalking), intrusive and threatening harassment of a person;
  • Cyber-control in relationships;
  • Revenge porn: non-consensual dissemination of intimate images, online public sharing of sexually explicit content without the consent of the person concerned, often for the purposes of revenge.

Women journalists are a target group for these types of violence mentioned above for reasons of simple doing their job. This action, as well, creates consequences for journalism, freedom of press, and freedom of expression

A report conducted in late 2020, by International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reveals that 73% of women journalist who participated in the survey had experienced online violence. In addition, the two highest online are physical threats with 25% and sexual violence with 18%. 13% of the participants mentioned that the threats went beyond themselves, since other individuals closer to them, also were attacked.

A friend and colleague of mine, Ileana Lacayo Ortiz from Bluefields, faced this doxing on social media when the social-political crisis broke out in Nicaragua in April, 2018. She also received threat and her house was burglared; so, months later, she fled the country. She was one of the many journalists who left the country for voicing out the injustice of the Nicaragua government. Ileana was not afraid to denounce the assassination of journalist, Angel Gahona in Bluefields on the 21st, of April 2018. In this video produced by Short Shelter City Utrecht, Ileana explains the repression she lived by the government.

Short Shelter City Utrecht documentary

Online violence has many impacts for journalists. As I read the different stories and reports I found that out that the most common effect is mental health mentioned by Ileana, as well. Another journalist who fled her country for protection is the Finnish journalist, Jessikka Aro.

Jessikka held a deep investigation about the pro-Russian internet trolls, but unfortunately, she was backlashed and became a victim of these same activities. In a debate organized by the International Women Media Foundation, the New York Times, and the Washington Post Jessikka said: “online violence is extreme, you can’t escape it, thus, you need to pay attention of your surrounding”.

One of Jessikka’s advice to women journalists who are living online violence is to get in touch with other colleagues or organizations. She said it’s important to know that “you are not alone”. Here is the complete panel discussion.

Press Freedom is a right, so, newsrooms, editors, colleagues and journalists’ organizations should continue to support women journalists who are being victims of online violence.

Do you know a woman journalist who had been abused online? Share it with us.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Give her a voice, stories and images

“I strongly believe that journalism is one of the most noble professions, because without an informed world, and without an informed society, we are weak, we are weak”. Christiane Amanpour

In October, 2014, I reported on a demonstration in Managua, Nicaragua, against the construction of the Interoceanic Canal (uniting the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean). It was a sunny and hot afternoon, but it didn’t stop protestors from raising their voices and walking the streets against this megaproject signed by the government and the Chinese businessman Wang Jing, in June, 2013. 

The demonstration ended at a well-known neighbourhood of the capital because it was blocked by police. My colleague and I were getting ready to leave when we heard the screeching of motorcycles, used by paramilitaries, who transgressed the barrier line set up by police. They hit several protestors, stole phones and cameras, and intimidated us.  

Fortunately, they didn’t take away our recording because we hid it and looked for a safe place. Since that day, I was more alert while working, and took precautions. This was the beginning of many violations of freedom and expression of press in my country. 

Incidents like the above were constantly repeated to journalists while reporting on stories that were forbidden by the government. In 2018, the incidents broke out in Nicaragua to a level of social-political crisis following the government’s announcement to slash social security benefits. 

Many journalists received a death threats, physical attacks, harassments and intimidation. Over 70 fled the country; policemen raided and confiscated independent media equipment, arrested, and jailed several journalists. In April, 2018, my colleague, Angel Gahona was assassinated in Bluefields the main city in the south Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. 

Unsplash pictures/Zulmaury Saavedra

Today, as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day under the title “Journalism without fear and favour”. I would like us to remember that this day is to remind governments about the compromise for freedom press, support for independent media and journalists, especially women. 

Have you ever checked the bylines of the articles you read? How many are written by women? 

According to the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), women “makeup less than 37% of the articles produced by major news orgs, and only 8% are produced by women of colour. In a key political year, only 34% of U.S.A. election coverage is generated by women, but still, their coverage is often questioned, attacked or distrusted”. 

In many countries, journalists and media are under attack by governments or companies. According, to the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), in 2019, 25 journalists were killed. From this total 2 were female. Syria had 7, followed by Mexico with 5, and next Somalia and Iraq with 2 each. As of May, 2020, 6 had been killed. 

Women journalists are a double target of restraint and treat of press freedom. A lot of badass female journalists dare to not stay back and stay and remain silent about the injustices that they witness in their community or abroad. 

Journalist, Lucía Pineda Ubau from 100% Noticias in Nicaragua, was arrested and jailed in December, 2018. Also, police raided and confiscated their equipment (still not returned). She was one of the hundreds of political prisoners charged by the government as “promoting terrorism; inciting violence and hate”. After 172 days in prison, she was released along with other political prisoners.  

Likewise, journalist, Svetlena Prokopyeva’s house was raided in February, 2020 in Pskov, northwest of Russia, by police who confiscated her computer and froze her bank accounts. This act was done over comments she made in November, 2018, at Radio Ekho Moskvy about a bomb detonated by a 17-year-old inside the Arkhangelsk office of the Federal Security Service.

She was charged by authorities as  “justifying terrorism”, and the trial was scheduled for April 20th, but due to the coronavirus pandemic it was postponed. 

Unsplash pictures/Sam Mcghee

On a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkmenistan is the third country of censorship. Reporter Soltan Achilova who works for the Khronika Turkmenistana (Chronicles of Turkmenistan), was banned last year in March from traveling outside the country;  no explanation was given. Previous to this incident, she was assaulted, threatened, and detained by police. 

Even in a time of a crisis like the novel virus, governments are violating press freedom. Last month, Ana Lalić, a Serbian reporter for website, was arrested after publishing an article about the lack of equipment and conditions hospitals are facing because of the pandemic. According to the government, she was responsible for creating panic. She spent a night in jail and was set free the day after. The charges were dropped later. 

In 2016, I participated in the World Press Freedom Day. It was held in Helsinki, Finland, at the Finland House. This was a unique experience since I heard so many stories similar to mine or worse. 

Every year, a Press Freedom Prize is given to a journalist by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) /Guillermo Cano. This year, it was given to Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian research journalist. 

Bedoya was born in 1974. Her stories are focused on the armed conflict, peace process, and sexual violence against women in Colombia. The website of UNESCO wrote: “Bedoya was herself a victim of sexual violence in 2000 when she was abducted and raped in connection with an investigation into arms trafficking… conducting for the daily newspaper El Espectador. Three years later, while working for the daily El Tiempo, she was kidnapped by militants of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)”.

A lot of brave female journalists are daily at the frontline to report and take photos of the stories that we read, hear, and watch. Many times, they are not allowed to speak, report, and travel. So next time you read your favourite magazine or watch a panel discussion conducted by women journalists, think about the context they were in to develop this story.