Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) stands in solidarity with women journalists subjected to online abuse
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) has expressed support with women journalists in Pakistan, who have issued a joint statement against the social media attacks they have faced due to their work. PPF stood in solidarity with women journalists and commentators who have been subjected to such online abuse and urged the government to urgently consider their demands.
We believe that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party must look into the allegations by the women journalists that they are being targeted for their viewpoints particularly regarding the government’s handling of COVID-19. It is unacceptable for government officials to in any way encourage or enable such abuse against women journalists. It is pertinent for the government to ensure that women in media are guaranteed their fundamental rights of free expression.
On August 12, women journalists in Pakistan issued a joint statement drawing attention to the “vicious attacks through social media” that are being directed at women journalists and commentators in the country. They said that these acts were making it “incredibly difficult” from them to carry out their professional duties.
“The target of these attacks are women with differing viewpoints and those whose reports have been critical of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s government and more specifically its handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” the joint statement read, adding: “The online attacks are instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, which declare their affiliation to the ruling party.”
In their joint statement, the women journalists and analysts said that via a “well-defined and coordinated campaign”, their personal details were being publicised. They were being referred to as “peddlers of ‘fake news’, ‘enemy of the people’ and accused of taking bribes (often termed as ‘paid’ journalists or lifafas”. Additionally, in some cases, their pictures and videos were being morphed. They said that women in the Pakistani media were not only being targeted for their work but also their gender. Their social media timelines are “being barraged” with gender-based slurs, threats of sexual and physical violence. They also drew attention to attempts to hack their social media accounts.
In their joint statement, the demands for the government included restraining those members who are targeting women in the media, “sending out a clear message” to [PTI] party members, supporters and followers from launching such attacks, and holding such individuals accountable and taking action against them. They also called on the Standing Committees on Human Rights in the Senate and National Assembly to take notice and hold the government accountable.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) had condemned the trolling of women journalists and demanded “immediate and urgent action against the attackers, and those who are backing these attackers”.
In the statement, shared on Twitter, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said: “By using social media and other means, threatening and abusive trolling against women journalists, the work environment has been made difficult for them to carry out independent and balanced contents(sic) for viewers and readers. Authorities seem to be indifferent and unconcerned which is alarming for the entire journalists community.”
Members of the ruling PTI as well as opposition leaders have also responded to the women journalists’ joint statement.
Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said it was “disturbing” to learn that women journalists were being targeted and abused. She added that she had requested the information ministry to fast track the Journalist Protection Bill.
“Abusing women bec they are critical is never acceptable. Journalists do their job & to target them, especially gender-based abusive attacks on women journos, is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting.”
Later, she added: “Let’s also be clear that it is equally disgusting & unacceptable for women journalists to ridicule politicians’ spouses & family mbrs – let us as women at least uphold for others what we demand for ourselves: respect. Sadly the abuse is widespread & no one gp or party’s monopoly.”
Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said: “Using abusive language against anyone …. Man or woman is wrong. Period. Spreading fake news is wrong. Period. Labelling those who call out your fake news as abusers is wrong. Period. All these three things are happening. All three should be condemned.”
Opposition party Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he had taken notice of the threats as the chair of the human rights committee (in the National Assembly).