The Growing Number of Online Threats Faced by Female Journalists
Anna Leszkiewicz, a female journalist, has been targeted by an anonymous Twitter account in 2013

The digitalization of our world and the great steps forward achieved in the realm of the digital media, have allowed citizens worldwide to be more involved in public discussions and spread flows of information faster. At the same time the opening up of the digital world has raised significant questions around the safety of journalists online. On the one hand, journalists have become more available and open to face-to-face discussions with their readers. Editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger advocates actively the idea of Open Journalism that sees journalism as an ongoing process that benefits from the abundance of information from the public and that makes readers not only consumers of information but also contributors. The short video created by the Guardian titled Guardian open journalism: Three Little Pigs advert highlights how the idea of open journalism can work in practice and its benefits for a well-informed and independent audience. Moreover Mr. Rusbridger, shares 10 ideas in support of Open Journalism, one of the most crucial points he makes being that “it is transparent and open to challenge – including correction, clarification and addition”. On the other hand, the digitalization of the press has made journalists more vulnerable in the face of threats and intimidations.

The OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, has been articulating the problem of safety of journalists online together with other international organizations and civil societies representatives, emphasizing it as a priority for her and her office. Earlier this year, she issues a Communiqué on the growing safety threat to female journalists online where she was the first ever to raise concern on the growing number of online threats faced by female journalists. Mrs. Mijatovic considers that online attacks are often not linked with the content of the articles but tend to treat with disrespect the journalist due to her being a woman. She is also alarmed by the fact that “for some female journalists, online threats of rape and sexual violence have become part of everyday life; others experience severe sexual harassment and intimidation”. Mrs.Mijatovic continues to work on this problem. On June 25, she hosted a tweetchat on digital threats and online abuse of female journalists, contributing to a better understanding of this problem by journalists and civil society. With the hashtag #askrfom she shared her plans to have a meeting in Vienna in September 2015 and discuss the issue of threats received by female journalists and try to work out the way forward. Ebru Umar, a female Dutch journalist, asked the OSCE RFoM about the most controversial issues of public identification online: “Most threats and harassment come from anonymous speakers. Should public identification be required online?” Ebru Umar received the following answer: “although tempting, it is not the right response. Anonymous speech is a basic human right and must be duly protected”.

But Ebru Umar’s interest in this situation is not merely for a better understanding of this pressing topic for the journalists’ community. She was a victim herself when she published her piece “That dead guest” in the Metro daily news, criticizing censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech in Turkey. She received 2,000 tweets regarding the article and many attacks to her personality, and many of them contained open death threats and accusations. One of the less harmful tweets received was “@umarebru when are you going to commit suicide?” Despite this sad situation Ebru Umar found enough strength to write about these threats and her emotional experience in another column for the NRC Handelsblad.

To conclude, it would be relevant to quote Mrs. Mijatovic answer during the tweetchat that “online abuse is a new part of an existing problem that needs to be tackled by society as a whole. Media included”. We can benefit greatly from Open Journalism and the modern technologies which have helped us refine our reporting methods and tools, but we should also seek to take action when the growing online threats to journalists prevent them from reporting or lead to self-censorship.