A Dark Place: UNESCO reaffirms commitment to tackle online harassment of female journalists

09/12/2019
Brussels, Belgium
16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

A Dark Place: UNESCO reaffirms commitment to tackle online harassment of female journalists

For female journalists, the internet is not only a channel to share information and stories, but also a place of verbal attacks and grave intimidation. On average, female journalists are three times more likely than their male colleagues to become targets of gender-based violence in form of threats of rape and death, smear campaigns and sexualized verbal abuse. Shedding a light on very personal stories of women journalists who experienced such online harassment for simply doing their jobs, the Flemish-Dutch House for Culture and Debate, deBuren, in collaboration with the Dutch Embassy and Permanent Representation to the EU, hosted a screening of the documentary “A Dark Place”, followed by a panel discussion.

The silencing of women’s voices is a serious threat for freedom of expression globally. It also distorts the media landscape by omitting certain points of view and perpetuates the dynamic of inequality both in the newsroom and in the society

Adeline Hulin, Project Officer for Freedom of Expression, UNESCO Brussels

Attacks on female journalists go beyond gender equality and press freedom, but have a direct impact on the quality of our democratic societies and the right to information. In “A Dark Place”, journalists from Serbia, Spain, the UK, Finland, the US, Turkey and Russia share first-hand their personal stories of online harassment and acts of intimidation. Many of these attacks show a coordinated structure and are often highly sexualized, not directly connected to the content of the journalists’ work, but their physical traits, cultural background, or private life.

“The silencing of women’s voices is a serious threat for freedom of expression globally. It also distorts the media landscape by omitting certain points of view and perpetuates the dynamic of inequality both in the newsroom and in the society”, stressed Adeline Hulin, Project Officer for Freedom of Expression at the UNESCO Office in Brussels during the panel discussion with David Friggieri, Policy and Legal Officer at the EU Commission’s DG Connect, Evdokia Moskvina, a freelance journalist from Russia who told her own story of online violence in the documentary, and Sara De Vuyst, a researcher connected to the Research Centre for Journalism Studies at Ghent University.

Building on a case described in the documentary of the successful conviction of an online perpetrator in Finland, the panellists agreed that attacks on female journalists should be treated as criminal offences and as such, should be prosecuted with due diligence. However, we still observe a worrying level of impunity for crimes against journalists, as highlighted by the recent End Impunity campaign by UNESCO.

In connection to its work to take effective measures to tackle online harassment of female journalists, UNESCO recently selected a consortium of researchers to carry out a study to provide a significant contribution to institutional knowledge around the topic and serve as the theoretical backbone to help strengthen the Organization’s effectiveness as a leading institution in fighting gender-based violence online. The research will provide insights on good practices that do not violate the right to freedom of expression and are aligned with UNESCO’s ROAM (Rights, Openness, Access to All, Multistakeholder participation) principles for the internet.

Find here the latest UNESCO report on the safety of journalists: Intensified attacks, new defences: Developments in the fight to protect journalists and end impunity