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July 24, 2023 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation received 75 cases of online harassment against journalists in 2022

Digital Rights Foundation received 75 cases of online harassment against journalists in 2022

JULY, 24 2023: Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) released its Policy Brief for journalists' and media practitioners' complaints received by the Cyber Harassment Heline during the year 2022. In 2022 the Helpline received a total of 75 complaints from journalists and media practitioners consisting of 34 female, 40 male and 1 trans persons. Women journalists are particularly susceptible to online harassment due to their gender, often being subjected to misogynistic and sexually explicit comments. In addition, they may also face self-censorship and professional attacks, which can have significant personal and professional repercussions. 

The policy brief is a compilation of the data from cases received by the Helpline through its toll-free number (0800-39393), which is available from Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm, and other services such as email and DRF’s social media platforms. The Helpline provides crucial tailored assistance to individuals facing complex and intersecting forms of vulnerability. The policy brief also contains recommendations for policymakers,  law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and social media companies to handle cases related to the media. 

The Cyber Harassment Helpline received the highest number of complaints (25%) from Punjab, followed by (17%) from journalists outside Pakistan, predominantly from Afghanistan. Around 51 complaints from journalists and media practitioners received were of cyber harassment, which accounts for 68% of the total complaints received from the journalist community during the year 2022. Out of these 51 complaints 15 were of threats received by the journalists which (29% of cyber harassment cases). This was followed by a total of 13 complaints of hacking attempts of either the journalists’ social media accounts or mass reporting of their accounts which disrupts their work and leads to a breach of their personal information. 

Additionally, defamation has been on the rise with around 18% of cases in the cyber harassment category being instances of organised and targeted campaigns against journalists on multiple online platforms instigating hatred. These campaigns often employed tactics of disinformation to harass their targets. This was followed by the suspension of accounts of journalists by social media companies. In most cases, there were “false positives” where either journalists reporting on issues of violence and conflict were suspended even though they were endorsing the views of those being reported on or instances where content moderation failed to understand the nature of posts due to the posts being in the local language and contextual barriers.

The policy brief also included recommendations for different stakeholders including the government, media houses and social media companies. DRF appreciated the bill on journalist safety, ‘Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals 2021’ but urged the government to address the potential harm that the bill, particularly section 6, can cause to the journalist and media community. The policy brief also recommended that politcal parties should have internal disciplinary mechanisms in place to ensure that they do not act in ways that harms or exacerbate harms towards journalists. The role of media houses in providing holistic assistance to reporters, journalists, editors or any member of their organization facing harassment online or offline was also emphasized. Nighat Dad, DRF’s Executive Director, noted that “We’ve seen a prevailing increase in attacks against journalists on social media platforms which has been quite alarming. Women journalists continue to be targeted online due to their gender and gender disinformation has been at an all-time high. Our Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights (NWJDR) provides support to women journalists but more needs to be done by the state, law enforcement agencies and social media companies to ensure their protection.”

Often, journalists, particularly women journalists, do not approach authorities due to fear of threats and bribery, and because they anticipate a lack of results. To address this, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and DRF are operating a complaint cell for the protection of journalists at NCHR. The complaint cell was established in August 2022, when NCHR, in collaboration with DRF and the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ), held a consultative meeting with women journalists from across Pakistan. The complaint cell, housed at NCHR, stands independently and is able to provide anonymous, unbiased support to journalists facing human rights violations, which include but are not limited to, harassment, torture, kidnapping. These complaints must be submitted in written form; in the form of through letter, online form, email, or in some cases even a message to the NCHR official number. Through the powers granted by the NCHR Act, 2012, NCHR is committed to tackling gender-based violence in Pakistan. NCHR receives and processes a large volume of complaints related to women’s rights, minority rights, rights of transgender persons, freedom of speech, protection of children, and more on a daily basis. Chairperson NCHR, Rabiya Javeri Agha, noted that “Freedom of the press and freedom of the media are cornerstones for any functioning, successful democracy”, emphasizing NCHR’s support for Pakistan’s journalist community.

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based NGO in Pakistan. Founded in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.


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Contact Person:

Maryam Saeed - Program Manager

[email protected]

Nighat Dad - Executive Director

[email protected]

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Press Releases

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