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How attackers try to silence women journalists in the EU

281 women journalists were attacked in the European Union and candidate countries last year. Women journalists more commonly face verbal attacks than their male colleagues. Verbal attacks constituted 31.0% of recorded incidents involving male journalists, while for female journalists it was 42.7%,  according to partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR). More women journalists are attacked online.

Smear campaigns have become significant tools aimed at silencing and discrediting women journalists, particularly when reporting on polarising topics during electoral periods, the organisation reports. 

“These campaigns create fertile ground for disinformation to spread unchecked.”

“The digital landscape has amplified patterns of harassment against women journalists during their professional activities.” 

“Online attacks, constituting 24.6% of all incidents against women journalists, are particularly alarming, far surpassing those against male journalists (12.5%). This includes mainly online harassment, such as intimidation, discredit, insult, harassment, sexual harassment, and bullying.”

Read Also:  Twitter and Facebook mentioned as major platforms for threats against women journalists

MFRR says these targeted attacks extend beyond verbal assaults and include direct threats to the safety of journalists and their families, doxxing, and attacks taking on sexualized tones, such as rape threats. 

In 2023, women journalists faced at least 20 rape or death threats, of which 60% happened online. 

“The surge in online attacks aims to intimidate, silence, and stigmatise women journalists, potentially limiting their participation in public spaces. Understanding online abuse is imperative, as it directly impacts the ability of women journalists to fully exercise their right to free expression.”

The report shows that attacks in public spaces and during protests account for 18.9% and 15.3%, respectively, of the incidents documented involving women journalists. “Physical assaults, though less frequent than for male journalists, still constitute 23.5% of incidents for women journalists, resulting in injuries in 17 cases.” 

“Legal incidents, including arrests, detentions, imprisonments, criminal charges, civil lawsuits, or defamation, are also significant concerns, constituting 25.6% of all incidents against women.”

The MFRR coalition is calling for a collective commitment from governments, media organisations, and civil society to address root causes and ensure a safe environment for women in journalism. 

The coalition also urges media companies to prioritise the safety of female staff, fostering harassment-free environments and providing comprehensive support in the event of an attack. 

Read Also:  Violence against women journalists is a freedom expression problem


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