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November 8, 2019

Online attack

Editorial

 
November 8, 2019

An astonishing 77 percent of Pakistani women journalists self-censor themselves in order to counter the online violence almost all of them face. According to a survey by the organization Media Matters for Democracy in a new report, virtual spaces are especially vicious to women journalists and affect what they write and how they work. The report, launched to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists falling on November 2, notes that while more and more journalism in today’s era takes place online, women often feel threatened by comments and vilification they confront on a regular basis. Three out of 10 women journalists have been victims of serious online crime such as blackmail and incitement of violence against them.

As is the case with online harassment of various kinds, the perpetrators usually escape without any penalty; women journalists say they receive unsatisfactory responses from social media platforms or law-enforcement agencies. Around 110 women journalists from different parts of the country took part in this important survey. This is an area of study which needs to increase as cyberspace becomes a key forum for journalistic expression and other forms of communication. It has been suggested that networks of women journalists can help support each other and that interactions between those who have faced similar situations help victims manage the problem.

In many cases, the attacks are of a sexual and personal nature, making them especially difficult to confront in a society where families too do not always support a woman who faces such offences. While physical violence against women journalists has been documented and discussed, media bodies and women’s groups need to take online violence more seriously and consider what can be done to counter it. Of course, it is not only journalists who face such violence. Other reports say there are a growing number of victims from every sector. But since journalists often express a particular opinion or voice a specific point of view, the silencing of their voices is especially disturbing. Women must have the right to put forward their views as openly and strongly as their male counterparts. In the shadowy world of cyberspace, it may be difficult to detect those who attempt to stop them. But with a cybercrimes wing in the FIA now in place and gaining more and more experience by the day, more effort needs to be made to track down those who regularly indulge in such targeting of women, and ensure they are penalized for their actions in order to protect women journalists online.

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