Female journalists in Pakistan say they are the victims of abuse. (Photo: Bismah Mughal)
More than 150 female journalists in Pakistan have signed a petition raising the alarm about “vile and vicious attacks” by people affiliated to the government, political parties and their social media wings.
The petition, initially signed by 15 women on Aug. 12, got major endorsement from scores of other female colleagues, their male counterparts and press bodies on Sept. 7.
The fresh statement noted that vile and vicious attacks were “increasingly impacting our work, mental well-being and security.”
“We endorse what our fellow colleagues have put on record on 12/08/2020 and widen the scope to reflect the magnitude and degree of trauma being experienced by women in media,” it said.
“The kind of trolling and unfettered vulgarity being experienced subverts every norm of decency with no law enforcement agency, government or any political party taking notice or action of what is clearly transgressing all limits of decency and subverting every ethical standard.”
The statement lamented that unfounded accusations of peddling fake news are hurled at journalists by government officials and politicians from all parties. They are also accused of serving political agendas and being on the payroll of political parties.
“Such accusations then trigger abusive campaigns targeting journalists. In some instances, our pictures and videos are also used and our social media timelines are then barraged with gender-based slurs, threats of sexual and physical violence. So vicious is the campaign against women that even the women/female members of our male colleagues' families are not spared. Their photographs and videos are doctored, distorted and leaked on social media,” the statement said.
“We women journalists now often find it difficult to remain active and engage freely on digital platforms. Out of fear of being hounded and harassed, and our dignity being violated through vile abuse, many of us self-censor. Hence, we refrain from sharing information, giving opinion or actively engaging online.”
The journalists called upon the government and all political parties to immediately draw up and adopt a code of conduct for social media teams of political parties, public bodies and other public institutions.
They urged the government to investigate and identify networks which have been prominently engaged in launching and running coordinated attacks, hashtag campaigns and abusive campaigns against women in the media.
They called for action against those officials found to be directly or indirectly engaged in the discrediting and harassing of media women.
The journalists, however, urged the government not to use this statement as an excuse to introduce further regulations and curbs on social media.
On Aug. 19, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Pakistani authorities to ensure that online threats and hate messages are stopped.
“We regard the highest levels of the Pakistani government as either responsible or complicit in these recent cyber-harassment campaigns against certain women journalists who don’t toe the official line,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“This tactic, which clearly aims to intimidate all government critics, is a flagrant violation of article 19A of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s constitution. We call on Prime Minister Imran Khan to ensure that this unacceptable use of hate speech is brought to a stop.”
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.