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Slander, humiliation and cyberbullying: study charts how journalists get targeted

 Psychological violence, cyberbullying, personal attacks and public defamation were the most common forms of interference on journalists' lives

Matthew Vella
21 April 2017, 7:45am
The most common interference, reported by 69% of the journalists, was psychological violence, including intimidation, threats, slandering and humiliation
The most common interference, reported by 69% of the journalists, was psychological violence, including intimidation, threats, slandering and humiliation
A survey published today by the Council of Europe, based on a sample of 940 journalists reporting from the 47 Council of Europe member states and Belarus, shows that journalists in Europe are often exposed to serious unwarranted interference in their work, including intimidation and violence.

As a consequence, many also suffer from fear, which frequently leads to self-censorship.

The study was commissioned by the Council of Europe from experts Marilyn Clark and Anna Grech from the University of Malta, who carried out the survey with the support of the Association of European Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, Index on Censorship, the International News Safety Institute and Reporters without Borders.

Almost one-third of the journalists who participated in the survey, carried out between April and July 2016, had experienced physical assault over a period of three years.

But the most common interference, reported by 69% of the journalists, was psychological violence, including intimidation, threats, slandering and humiliation.

The second most common interference was cyberbullying, reported by 53%, mostly in the form of accusations of being partisan, personal attacks, public defamation and smear campaigns. Reports of intimidation from interest groups were the third most frequent interference mentioned (50%), followed by being threatened with force (46%), intimidation by political groups (43%), targeted surveillance (39%) and intimidation by the police (35%).

The study “Journalists under pressure: Unwarranted interference, fear and self-censorship in Europe” used a survey carried out via an anonymous online questionnaire in five languages among journalists, mainly recruited from members of five major journalists' and freedom of expression organisations.

Nearly three quarters of respondents said that they did not feel protected from targeted surveillance and half said that they thought their ability to protect their sources was compromised.

Incidents of theft, or confiscation or destruction of property related to their work, were reported by 21% of journalists, non-contact personal theft by 19% and sexual harassment by 13%.

Almost one quarter of respondents (23%) said that over the last three years they had experienced judicial intimidation (arrest, threat of prosecution or actual prosecution), mostly through defamation laws.

Physical assault was most frequently reported by journalists reporting from the South Caucasus region and Turkey, but was also mentioned in EU member states and non-Western European countries. Physical threats were mentioned very often by journalists reporting from Turkey and the South Caucasus.

Over one third of the journalists (35%) participating in the study reported that they did not have access to mechanisms to protect them against the interference with their work.

The results highlight the significant impact of the fear of interference experienced by journalists in their work. Fear of becoming victims of future unwarranted interference was high, especially with regard to psychological violence (60%), cyberbullying (57%), intimidation by individuals (51%) and by interest groups (45%), and physical violence (41%). One third of the journalists were concerned about the safety of their families and friends.

The survey found high levels of self-censorship among journalists. One in five of the respondents said that they felt pressured to present their reports in ways which are more amenable to their employers.

Many felt compelled to tone down controversial stories (31%), withhold information (23%) or abandon stories altogether (15%). However, 36% of journalists said that the pressures they experienced made them more committed to resist censorship, whether from outside forces or self-imposed.

Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.