Online abuse against women journalists is a workplace health and safety issue, says new report

Media companies need to treat online gender-based abuse against women journalists as a workplace health and safety issue, a new report has recommended.

Don’t Read the Comments: Enhancing Online Safety for Women Working in the Media‘ was launched last night by the industry’s union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), and Gender Equity Victoria. Journalists including ABC Life editor Bhakthi Puvanenthiran and author of ‘Troll Hunting’ Ginger Gorman spoke at the launch event.

The report is the culmination of research that indicates more than a third of women journalists have experienced online harassment, trolling and stalking while doing their job, but only 16% know about a workplace policy to address such online abuse.

Accordingly, its recommendations include: introducing an organisational approach to address sexism in the workplace; conducting training on gender, implicit bias and bystander intervention for all staff in media companies; treating online gender-based abuse against women journalists as an issue of workplace health and safety; introducing moderation guidelines and training that explicitly cover gendered and identity-based abuse that requires a strong response from the company; requiring readers to complete a simple comprehension quiz before they are allowed to comment; and requiring media companies to specifically support freelance journalists, even after the story has been published and an invoice paid.

MEAA noted that the last recommendation stems from an understanding that freelance journalists, who don’t enjoy the support structures available to part time or full time staff, are especially vulnerable.

“In the modern publishing age, journalists are expected to have a presence on multiple digital platforms, and it is unacceptable that they feel unsafe because of bullies, trolls and stalkers,” Adam Portelli, MEAA’s Victoria and Tasmania regional director, said.

“For better or worse, social media and other online platforms are part of the modern journalist’s workplace, and online abuse and harassment must be treated as a workplace health and safety issue.”

Kit McMahon, chair of Gender Equity Victoria, noted that while men can also receive online abuse, abuse levelled at women is often gendered, sexist and threatening.

“While men and women are both trolled online, it is women who often receive abuse because of their gender, that takes the form of sexist and derogatory comments, through to serious accusations of physical harm such as death and rape threats,” McMahon said.

“Online abuse has very real impacts on women’s mental health, where women report experiencing depression, panic attacks and sleep disturbance, which also impacts on their ability to do their work for fear of further abuse.”

MEAA and Gender Equity Victoria began working together to counter online gender-based abuse last year and consulted with women journalists and media workers.


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