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How to Counter Gender-based Online Harassment of Journalists


Increasingly, risky or dangerous reporting environments for women are not restricted to war zones and sites of civil conflict. It is now well documented that female journalists face far more threats and harassment in the digital or online environment than their male colleagues. In September, the International Media Women’s Foundation and Trollbusters rep[orted in the increasing scale of the issue in Attacks and Harassment: The Impact on Female Journalists and Their Reporting which is available for download from iwmf.org

Many journalists are facing attacks on media freedoms across the world, but women are also facing attacks on their personal reputations which can be devastating to careers in some cultures, along with threats of rape and other gender based online attacks. This has become so commonplace that there is growing agreement on the need for clear policies on supporting and protecting female media workers from online attacks. Of course, the #MeToo movement has been instrumental in making it clear that the starting place for reform is a harassment-free place of work.

In this video, safety trainer Abeer Saady canvasses the views of experts on cyber violence about policies which can protect media women; media editors on workplace initiatives which acknowledge the issues faced by their female workforce and action plans to protect them, and a senior journalist on personal strategies to end the violence which aims to silence women in media.

IAWRT is keen to provide resources for training and workshops on the safety of women journalists and appreciates any comment or feedback, to [email protected].



Interviews conducted by Abeer Saady, video production by Lady Ann Salem. 

 Personell in order of appearance (from online CV’s)

  1. Joyce Barnathan, President of the International Center for Journalists (former executive editor, assistant managing editor for Asia regional editor and Hong Kong Bureau Manager for Business Week.  Barnathan came to Business Week from Newsweek, where she served as State Department correspondent, Moscow Bureau Chief and Special Projects Correspondent covering presidential elections. As president of the ICFJ since 2006, Joyce Barnathan has helped to develop and oversee a wide variety of high-impact programs at the nexus of quality journalism and technology. Under her leadership, ICFJ helps journalists to tell compelling stories, engage audiences and deepen coverage. Over 34 years, ICFJ has worked with 100,000 participants from 180 countries.
  2. Emma Alberici Chief Economics Correspondent Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney. Alberici was the presenter of the ABC’s flagship current affairs program, Lateline. and served a term as the ABC’s Europe correspondent. She has worked as a reporter for the ABC’s The 7.30 Report and began her career at the Herald Sun Newspaper and as a reporter and producer at Australia’s commercial TV Nine Network.
  3. Leyla Boulton Editor of Special reports and an Executive Editor of the Financial Times. Since joining the newspaper as a correspondent in Moscow in 1990, Leyla has been FT correspondent in Turkey, environment correspondent, as well as a news editor and web pioneer. She takes a keen interest in gender equality at work since she began reporting on this topic and pressing for change within her own organisation a decade ago.
  4. Gunnar Falck is the managing editor at Västerbottens-Kuriren in Umeå, Sweden. After completing his studies at the University of Journalism in Stockholm in 1980, he worked at Nerikes Allehanda in Örebro and Norra Västerbotten in Skellefteå, before joining Västerbottens-Kuriren in 1982. Gunnar has worked as a reporter, as a sportswriter, head of the sports department, night editor and since 2002 as the managing editor. Gunnar was put in charge the same year that the newspaper decided to start a project aimed at increasing the number of women as the main character in the news and in stories. The project was quickly made a permanent part of the daily operation and is still ongoing. Gunnar has written a chapter about this in the Swedish national report Count on women as a part of the Global Media Monitoring Project 2015, and in English in Making change: Nordic examples of working towards gender equality in media.
  5. Doctor Anastasia Powell, Associate Professor in Criminology & Justice Studies at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, currently a member of the editorial board of the international journal Crime, Media, Culture, and serves on the board of directors of Our Watch, Australia’s national organisation for the prevention of violence against women and their children. Her research has specialised in sexual and intimate partner violence, as well as emerging forms of technology- facilitated violence against women. Anastasia has published widely in these fields, including the book Sexual Violence in a Digital Age (2017, Palgrave). From 2013-2015, Dr. Powell was lead Chief Investigator on an ARC Discovery Project with Dr Henry, titled Technology-facilitated sexual violence and harassment. The project examined the ways in which technologies (including mobile phones, video recordings, online spaces, social media) are being used in connection with sexual violence and harassment against women.

IAWRT acknowledges – and there are many examples around the globe which we have commented on in films and publications  – that online attacks are not always random opportunities offered by the anonymity of the internet but often carefully orchestrated and controlled by particular political interests.  

India’s Swati Chaturvedi responded to vicious online harassment campaigns by using journalistic weapons. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which has nominated her for one of its 2018 Press Freedom Awards, she began investigating the “IT cell” within the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “which is notorious for keeping an army of angry trolls.”

That lead to the publication of a book I am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army. The RSF says, “in retaliation for her reporting, Swati Chaturvedi is now even more exposed to calls for revenge by social media trolls.”

In Finland the courts have upheld the right of journalist Jessikka Aro, a reporter for the Finnish national broadcaster YLE, to be safe from the harasment and hate crime which she suffered when she began investigating Russian propoganda troll factories. The court has sentenced Ilja Janitski, nthe founder of a pro-Russian website, MV-Lehti to 22 months in prison on charges of defamation and negligence. Janitski and two other Finish journalists were ordered to pay 136,000 euros compensation. The BBC has a good explanation of the story here.


There is no ‘one size fits all’ response to cyber violence and IAWRT is committed to sharing any safety strategies which may keep media women safe to continue doing their important work.