Attacks On Women In Media In Pakistan
Within an already restrictive environment for free expression, in the past year, women in the Pakistani media industry were the subject of online abuse, threats, trolling and smear campaigns. While online attacks as well as criminalization of the media for content shared online have become increasingly active tools used as a whole, the gendered nature of these attacks has also been observed.
As the world observes International Women’s Day, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) calls attention to attacks on the press freedom of women in Pakistan’s media industry and emphasises the importance of ensuring the safety of women media personnel both in the physical and online spheres.
Over the past year, women in the Pakistani media have faced a series of abuse, threats and attacks online that extend from government representatives, opposition political party members to average citizens that use social media platforms as a way of disseminating gendered attacks on press freedom.
While the media as a whole is often subjected to targeted campaigns, trolls and abuse online, this appears to be a tool that has been used to specifically undermine, silence and threaten women in the media. In some instances, they have created a physical threat for those on the receiving end of the abuse.
On August 12, 2020, a collection of women journalists issued a joint statement drawing attention to the “vicious attacks through social media” that were being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan.
In their statement, the women journalists had said that these attacks were targeting those who were critical of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government particularly of the government’s handling of COVID-19.
They alleged that the attacks were “instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts which declare their affiliation to the ruling party”.
Amongst the attacks listed by the women media personnel included: a “well-defined and coordinated campaign” to publicise their personal details, their pictures and videos were being morphed, their social media timelines were “being barraged” with gender based slurs, threats of sexual and physical violence, they were being referred to as “peddlers of fake news, enemy of the people, accused of taking bribes”, and there were attempts to hack their social media accounts.
Earlier this month, on March 1, The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) issued a statement condemning the “constant intimidation” towards women journalists by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Communication Dr Shahbaz Gill.
In their statement, CFWIJ said that Dr Gill “discriminates against women journalists and berates their work”. Founding director Kiran Nazish said that of the 92 countries the body documents violations against women journalists, Pakistan “consistently remains among the top countries” where they monitor the threats.
PPF is extremely concerned by these campaigns against women media personnel and urges the government as well as the opposition to ensure that they themselves do not become the cause of the intimidation experienced by women in the Pakistani media.
These gendered attacks on women in media, however, extend beyond the online sphere. A special report ‘Women in South Asia: Hostile encounters’ published in Dawn, highlights the challenges women in the Pakistani media have faced both online and hostility in newsrooms. One of the examples shared in the report is of the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) Karachi bureau chief Rafia Haider. In the report, Haider is quoted as saying that things have “gone from bad to worse” in 2020 compared to when she was earlier a bureau chief.