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UNESCO Discusses the Harassment of Women Journalists Online

Two-thirds of women journalists reported that they have experienced harassments or threats online according to recent a survey.

The issues of women journalists’ safety and  digital sexual violence were the focus of the international conference organized by the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) that took place on 5 December in the capital city of Seoul.

Mr. Sang-Hyun KANG, the Chairperson of KCSC opened the conference with the theme “Combating Digital Sexual Violence: Effective Countermeasures and International Cooperation”. Mr. Kang noted the issue of digital sexual violence against women, including the spread of image-based abuse or commonly known as “revenge porn” must be addressed in a holistic manner.

Dr. Ming-Kuok LIM, Advisor for Communication and Information of the UNESCO Office in Jakarta encouraged participants to use the techniques used by journalists to fight back against harassment online such as asking supporters to lend their support to fight back, to tighten security online and offline, calling on platform to take actions, and to take seriously emotional and psychological impacts experienced  by journalists.

Online harassment creates a chilling effect on freedom of expression and press freedom. This is evident by the fact that 40 percent of women journalists in the same survey done by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) said that they avoided reporting on certain topics due to the harassment they received online.

The situation of women journalists is also reflected in the UN Secretary-General’s 2018 report which acknowledges that while online environment can allow women to get around traditional restrictions of print media and television by avoiding some gender biases and certain forms of discrimination that prevent and limit women’s participation in the media.  However, the report also cautions that online environment also constitutes a new platform for attacks against women. Online abuse is often anonymous and extremely invasive.

Noteworthy is that what transpired in the digital realm does flow over to the physical world and vice-versa. Journalists who are threatened online are also sometimes attacked in the real life. In the worst-case scenario, some journalists had been killed for their reportage online.

UNESCO, as the leading UN specialized agency tasked with fostering freedom of expression, has been systematically tracking cases of killed journalists since 2006, has observed a steady increase in number of killed women journalists. According to the latest UNESCO Director-General Report on Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity recorded eleven killed women journalists in 2017, the highest since the Organization started publishing the report in 2006.

Other speakers included Sun-Mee Jin, the Minister for Gender Equality and Family, Hyo-Soeng Lee, Chairperson of Korea Communications Commission, Antigone Davis, the Head of Global Safety and Policy of Facebook, Don Bruckschen, the Regional Attaché for Homeland Security Investigations, Denton Howard, the Executive Director of INHOPE, and Michael Terhorst, Senior Legal Counsel for Germany’s Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors (BPjM).