August 12, 2020 – A group of Pakistani women journalists have released a statement demanding the government to put an end to the violence that they are constantly subjected to on the internet, at the hands of the elected officials of the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and in extension their many supporters. The statement can be accessed here.
The statement comes in response to the abuse targeted at women journalists as they report on the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Through this statement, the undersigned women journalists highlight that these attacks are making it incredibly difficult for them to carry out their professional duties.
It highlights the coordinated campaigns against women journalists in Pakistan. “Women in the media are not only targeted for their work, but also their gender. Our social media timelines are then barraged with gender-based slurs, threats of sexual and physical violence. These have the potential to incite violence and lead to hate crimes, putting our physical safety at risk,” the statement says.
Signatories note that multiple attempts of hacking have resulted in their access to information being limited, and in some instances the accounts have been locked as a result, the statement notes. It further mentions that the laws and authorities fail to grant women journalists the protection that is guaranteed under Article 4: Right of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with law, etc. of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The undersigned women journalists demand that the ruling party immediately restrain its members, followers and supporters from targeting women journalists, and hold those in government accountable and take action against them.
Women journalists have repeatedly been made victims of online harassment for their work, and most of this violence is targeted on their gender more than the criticism of their work. As a result, they are forced to self-censor. A study by Media Matters for Democracy titled Hostile Bytes, shows that 3 out of 10 women journalists are victims of serious online crime such blackmail and incitement to violence against them. The research also found that 95 percent of women journalists feel online violence has an impact on their professional choices, while 77 percent self-censor on the internet as a way to counter online violence. Whereas, another study titled Gendering Self-Censorship, found that 87 percent of the women journalists who were surveyed have practiced self-censorship in their journalism, and 93 percent said that it was important to self-censor to deal with targeted abuse and harassment.
Hija is a Programs Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She combines her experience in digital rights in Pakistan to lead digital rights and internet governance advocacy of MMfD. She tweets at @hijakamran