CSW58: For women, the media is a hazardous business

CSW58: For women, the media is a hazardous business

Date: September 9, 2014
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Elisa Lee Minoz and Irina Bokova. Photo: Colleen Lowe MornaNew York, 12 March: Threats of violence come with the media profession, especially in conflict ridden areas. But a sneak preview of the first global survey on violence against women journalists shows that for them, danger lurks within their own workplace. The main perpetrator may be the same person expected to ensure their safety – their boss!

Participants to a UNESCO side event to the 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conference in New York heard that media women face various forms of violence, including from new media, and beginning in their workplace.

Elisa Lees Munoz Executive Director of the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that carried out the survey with the International News Safety Institute noted that for 25 years her organisation has recognised media women’s vulnerability to violence. The survey presents the first evidence of its nature and form.

Addressing a packed audience during a panel discussion on gender, ICT’s and media freedom, Munoz acknowledged several limitations of the online study – a “snowball sampling technique”, only in English, that yielded 1000 responses.

Still, according to the IWMF, Violence and Harassment against Women in the News Media: A Global Picture provides the first comprehensive picture of the dangers faced by many women working in news media around the world. It describes the types of violence and threats female journalists encounter and considers how these incidents affect their ability to conduct their work.

The report identifies trends among reported incidents and offers suggestions about what individuals and organizations might do to mitigate the dangers of reporting in hostile environments and provide a safe working environment at home.

A shocking finding of the study is that for two thirds of the respondents said the main perpetrators of violence against them were bosses, followed by co-workers and sources. More than three quarters of the respondents cited men as perpetrators of physical, verbal and sexual violence. Shoving topped the list, with 18% of this caused by colleagues in the office; the balance during coverage of public events. Although most reported being traumatised by the incidents, only one third reported them to the police.

Fourteen percent of the respondents shared that they had experienced sexual violence. For 40 percent of the respondents, this mostly occurred in the field while 24 percent was in the office where half of the acts were by co-workers. Of those media women who experienced sexual violence, only 20 percent had reported these incidents for fear of secondary victimisation.

Sexual harassment in the media mainly takes the form of unwanted comments on dress and appearance, jokes and invasion of physical space. Most reported that the harassment is ongoing.

With the advent of ICTs, female journalists also face threats through online media. “Cyber-bullying” according to Pamela Falk, CBS correspondent and President of the UN Correspondents Association, involves personal attacks that in the case of women correspondents invariably takes on sexual connotations.

The IMWF survey found ICT and work-related violations of the rights of women journalists include online account surveillance, phone tapping, stealing of source material as well as hacking of email accounts. Yet less than one third of the respondents took safety and security measures or received training on digital and online security. Twenty-percent of the female journalists had, however, been trained on how to protect online sources.

The survey recommends increased accountability for violence against women within the workforce; increased preventive security for all journalists but specifically for women practitioners; psychosocial support for survivors of violence and the development of preventive laws and policies.

According to the survey, undertaken with support from UNESCO and the Austrian Mission to the UN, “the very first step in addressing a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem.”

Austrian Ambassador Martin Sajdik said as a result of the study a campaign is underway to to have 2 November declared the International Day for the Prevention of Crimes against Journalists.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General noted the need for collaboration to ensure that “every journalist can do his or her work safely and to fight impunity”. She stated that while technology is necessary this needs to be regulated through frameworks that provide a safe and secure environment for both women and men.

Anne Bennett, Executive Director of Hirondelle USA, a media development NGO, declared that safety of journalists needs to be included in the mandate of UN Peacekeeping Missions.

On a positive note Bennett shared inspiring stories of how new media is revolutionising the media landscape in many African countries. In Sierra Leone, for example, women are copying stories from radio using blue tooth and cell phones during listening club sessions. These programmes are played back to husbands with the hope of challenging patriarchal stereotypes.

As Falk declared in wrapping up the session, information for women must become to be “both power and protection.”

Virginia Muwanigwa is the Chairperson of Women and Land in Zimbabwe and the Director of Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC). Colleen Lowe Morna is the CEO of Gender Links. This article is part of the GL News Service special coverage of CSW58, offering fresh views on everyday news.


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