Journalists and media workers have long been at risk for violence in the course of their work. The past few years have seen an uptick in the number of journalists and media workers who were killed, tortured, arrested or detained in as a direct result of their profession. Journalism can be a dangerous profession. Journalists and media workers often work in the midst of war zones, conflicts, and natural disasters, and can incur the wrath of the most powerful when reporting on corruption or human rights abuses.
In addition to this, women journalists across the world face violence and harassment at an astounding rate. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 1 in every 2 women journalists have suffered some form of sexual harassment, psychological abuse, online trolling, and other forms of abuse while working. They are often at greater risk of being targeted not only for their reporting, but also because of their gender, including through the threat of sexual violence.
Since 2012, numerous Human Rights Council resolutions have set out States’ political commitments to end impunity and ensure the safety of journalists. In September 2018, OHCHR presented a report on the issue at the 39th session of the Human Rights Council that provided an overview of recent developments at the international and regional levels to monitor the safety of journalists, as well as prevent and protect against attacks. The report stated that despite the attention given to the safety of journalists at the international and regional levels, attacks on journalists have been increasing, which raises legitimate questions about the impact of these mechanisms. It recommended the adoption of independent and impartial methods to analyze their effectiveness and to systematically collect and analyze relevant disaggregated data over time.
In 2017, the IFJ conducted a survey of almost 400 journalists in 50 countries, and the results were staggering:
- 48% had suffered gender-based violence in their work
- 44% had suffered online abuse
- Among the most common forms of gender-based violence suffered by women journalists were verbal abuse (63%), psychological abuse (41%), Sexual harassment (37%) and economic abuse (21%). Almost 11% had suffered physical violence.
- 45% of perpetrators were people outside of the workplace – sources, politicians, readers or listeners. 38% were a boss or supervisor.
- 39% of those who suffered abuse did so at the hands of anonymous assailants.
- Two-thirds (66.15%) did not make a formal complaint.
- Of those who did complain 84.8% did not believe adequate measures had been taken in all cases against the perpetrators. Only 12.3% were satisfied with the outcome.
- Only 26% of workplaces had a policy covering gender based violence and sexual harassment.
Women journalists also face increasingly precarious working conditions, particularly those forced to work without contracts, social protections, pensions, paid holidays and other social benefits. As job security erodes and full time work for reporters diminishes, more and more journalists are being forced into freelance work. This not only has implications for journalistic integrity, but also puts journalists at the mercy of the ever-expanding gig economy that strips workers of their rights as laborers.