Anne Wizorek. Photo: Jane Whyatt

Almost half of all women journalists endure harassment – here you find help

By Jane Whyatt

According to latest research  by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) almost half of all female media workers surveyed (48%) have endured some kind of gender-based harassment at work. This ranges from physical violence and sexual abuse such as groping through verbal harassment and cybermobbing.

Anne Wizorek. Photo: Jane Whyatt

More and more women are fighting back by showing solidarity and offering help through specialist training courses, helplines and mentoring programmes. At ECPMF we offer a free confidential service, staffed exclusively by women, through our Women’s Reporting Point 

Also, there are many role models to inspire both women and men to stand up for equal rights and support their colleagues. In Germany, the fightback began four years ago already with Anne Wizorek’s “outcry” (#aufschrei) campaign. Digital media consultant and author Wizorek has a wealth of good advice for her colleagues, which she shared in a video interview with ECPMF at the Media Against Hate workshop in Hamburg, Germany 2017.

“It’s important to realise that you’re not alone. These things are really happening. I know society tells you they aren’t but they are. Find like-minded people who will support you,“ says the 36 year old. Her experience of hate campaigns in her social media has made her tougher, she adds – and this saddens her because it means she has been forced to change her personality and behaviour.

 ‘Tell the police – but don’t expect much!’

For those facing online abuse, Wizorek recommends first to complain to the networks where the abuse appears. Twitter, Facebook and others have their own community rules and they are supposed to enforce them. As for the police, Anne Wizorek says it is important to report abuse to them, too, but not to hope for too much because “They are still at the baby steps stage when it comes to dealing with online threats“. Still they will be pressured into taking more action.

Fellow German journalist Caterina Lobenstein of Die Zeit has also experienced a barrage of hate, especially when writing about refugees. One article that provoked an extreme response was a detailed reportage in Bitterfeld, a small town in the former German Democratic Republic, which showed that local people deeply resent taxpayers’ money being spent on housing and caring for asylum seekers from war zones in Syria and Afghanistan. At the 2017 Media Against Hate Hamburg conference, she said that it is important to keep open channels of communication with the readers, even though it makes difficult reading.

Where to find help and information box

Here are some resources to help women journalists facing gender-based harassment, and commentators writing about it:

Women’s Reporting Point

Rape Crisis Centres Network Europe

National Union of Journalists safety advice

TrollBusters online practical help

Council of Europe Gender Equality in the Audiovisual Sector

Coalition for Women Journalists offers mentoring

Remembering Kim Wall Fund grants to female reporters

The International Federation of Journalists 2017 survey results 

The International Federation of Journalists campaign to stop violence against women

Emma Holten shows young women are responding to online hate

AMARC Gender Policy for Community Radios”

TV presenters targeted

Women journalists who appear on TV and radio are often targeted. They offer different strategies for coping with the menace. ZDF TV journalist Jana Pareigis told ECPMF at the New German Media Makers 2017 conference in Berlin  that she no longer reads the comments in online forums at the company’s website, because  

I don’t look at them because I don’t want to give one minute of my time and attention to those people.“

In a more proactive approach, the Swedish freelance journalist Alexandra Pascalidou responded to an email from a former neo-Nazi who wrote to her, apologising for all the violent threats and hate speech he had directed at her over 16 years. She immediately went to meet him and offered forgiveness, in an interview published by Sweden’s biggest newspaper Dag Nyther. Pascalidou also presented her case at the ECPMF 2017 conference. And she wrote and produced a stage play about the gender-based and racist violence she has endured, and made a YouTube video.

Complaints of sexism and islamophobia rejected

ITN reporter Fatima Manji made official complaints to the British press and broadcasting regulators after she was criticised in national newspapers and radio by the former editor of the Sun , Kelvin McKenzie.  She is Muslim and appeared on screen reading the Channel Four News wearing her headscarf, as usual, when presenting the news that a terrorist outrage had been committed in Nice, France. McKenzie said she should not have been allowed to present the news of an Islamicst terror attack. She won the support of the European media freedom community when she appeared at the ECPMF 2016 conference courtesy of Engagement Global – but the British regulators IPSO  and Ofcom  both threw out her complaints in the interests of “free speech“.

“We are many” – French journalists show solidarity

But French radio journalist Nadia Daam won the backing of more than 100 colleagues after unknown stalkers came to her apartment in the middle of the night and banged on the door, following an online campaign. The journalists and editors – male and female – issued an open letter in support of Daam, ending with the defiant words “If you want to knock on our doors in the night – we are many“.

Britain’s Guardian journalist Laura Bates has devoted five years to her Everyday Sexism project, which won the Georgina Henry Prize. It is a crowdsourced collection of incidents involving ordinary women, aiming to encourage them to speak out against comments and actions which denigrate women or treat them as sex objects.

The newly-founded Coalition for Women in Journalism started offering specialist mentoring in March 2017 to women who are struggling in the workplace. They may experience threats and harrassment or underpayment and lack of promotion prospects. By October 2017 the Coalition, founded by Kiran Nazish, had such a strong demand that they ran out of mentors in Belgium and Germany and put out a public appeal for more experienced female journalists to join them.

“It’s just banter – a bit of fun”

Help is on offer too for men who may not understand what “all the fuss“ is about, and who believe that sexualised “banter“ in newsrooms is just a bit of fun. It comes from an English law enforcement agency, the Thames Valley Police. In their animated training video, the police try to illustrate the meaning of consenting to have sex with reference to the British habit of drinking tea!  The idea is that if someone says they don’t want a cup of tea, they should not be forced to drink one. It is an amusing cartoon, but with a serious message. Meanwhile the London-based Trouble Club has produced a Charter on sexual harassment for both men and women.


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