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Roberta Knoll

#ReportIt: Mental Health – Protecting the wellbeing of journalists and media workers across Europe

By | Mapping Media Freedom, ReportIt

For World Mental Health Day (10th October 2020) ECPMF Helpdesk Manager, Katrin Schatz outlines the steps needed to protect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of journalists and media workers across Europe and what the Media Freedom Rapid Response can do to support

 In this piece, ‘women’ refers to all people who identify as women.

Given the nature of their work, according to research cited by the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma, between 80 and 100% of journalists and media workers have been exposed to traumatic events as part of their work from a range of different sources. They are often witnesses to traumatic events, ranging from armed conflicts, natural disasters and homicides to everyday tragedies like crime scenes, traffic accidents and domestic violence. As witnesses, while the trauma might not be experienced first-hand, it can still be felt vicariously and affect the journalists’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

As the situation of press and media freedom worldwide is deteriorating, this puts journalists and media workers further at risk from a wide range of direct and indirect physical, legal, psychological and digital safety threats. For instance, the majority of journalists have been exposed to intimidation and online harassment, solely for carrying out their work. For women, non-binary and LGBTI journalists as well as journalists of colour these attacks can be especially consistent and vicious.

The majority of journalists have been exposed to intimidation and online harassment, solely for carrying out their work.

Since the beginning of 2020, the Mapping Media Freedom platform has recorded 227 threats against press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. 122 (54%) relate to harassment and/or psychological abuse, such as intimidation, threats, sexual harassments and smear campaigns, as seen in the abuse directed at Florence Hainaut in Belgium and Miroslava Byrns in North Macedonia. Further to this, having to source and fund legal representation and participate in court cases related to legal threats, such as SLAPPs and defamation can affect a media professionals’ mental health.

The mental health of journalists is too often overlooked

Being constantly exposed to trauma, either first or second-hand, in-person or online, takes a toll and can have a significant impact on a person’s emotional health and willingness to continue their work safely. The psychological impact of this work can take various forms and is experienced differently by each individual due to the context, severity and frequency of exposure. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and insomnia are common diagnoses, with further symptoms such as increased alertness, numbing and disassociation, intrusive memories, concentration problems, and overreaction to everyday events being associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is a cultural issue as well. Stress is very much considered as part of the profession; the default state of contemporary newsroom culture. Irregular schedules, tight deadlines and potentially dangerous reporting environments are typical aspects of a career in journalism across Europe. This is further entrenched by diminishing resources for in-work support, fewer staff to alleviate pressures on individuals and insecure working contracts. The normalization of such working conditions, when twinned with stereotypes concerning bravery and grit can undermine the process of journalists and media workers acknowledging underlying mental health issues and seeking necessary support.

COVID-19 is affecting journalists’ mental health

In June 2020, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the University of Toronto interviewed 73 journalists from international news organizations covering the pandemic. Early results state that around 70% of the respondents suffer from some levels of psychological distress, with further responses suggesting that 26% have clinically significant anxiety compatible with the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, symptoms of which include feelings of worry, feeling on edge, insomnia, poor concentration and fatigue. Around 11% of respondents report prominent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which include recurrent intrusive thoughts and memories of a traumatic COVID-19-related event, a desire to avoid recollections of the event, and feelings of guilt, fear, anger, horror and shame.

While these symptoms warrant immediate attention to support the journalists and media workers themselves, this is also a severe threat to the information society needs to understand and cope with the current public health crisis across the globe. By protecting the health of journalists and media workers we are protecting the health of our democracies and societies.

Media professionals need more support than ever coping with work related trauma

Journalists are as vulnerable to psychological trauma as they are to physical, digital and legal threats. Thus, psychosocial safety is of crucial importance and should not be seen as separate to other dimensions of safety. Approaching these threats holistically and preparing accordingly enhances the overall safety of journalists.

Psychosocial safety is of crucial importance and should not be seen as separate to other dimensions of safety.

Resources exist to ensure journalists can access the support they need. For instance, the Dart Center at Columbia University in New York is a resource hub on the topic of journalism and trauma. It provides guidance on how to report ethically on tragic and/or traumatic incidents as well as to protect oneself from their harmful effects. Further to that, many organisations publish guides and provide trainings related to mental health issues for journalists.

Where self-care is not sufficient and local support mechanisms are lacking, journalists can access psychological support through international organisations. Journalists based in EU Member State and Candidate Countries can receive financial assistance through the practical support fund of the Media Freedom Rapid Response: https://www.mfrr.eu/support/practical-support/

 

ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here: https://www.mappingmediafreedom.org/report-it

#ReportIt: The ever-present threat to democracy of gender-based violence and harassment

By | Mapping Media Freedom, ReportIt

By Roberta Knoll, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

In this piece, ‘women’ refers to all people who identify as women.

“Watch when you are seen in public”. This was a message sent to reporter Marianna Spring in relation to her coverage of disinformation and social media for the BBC. In the response to one piece, it was not the only threat she received. Nor is she alone in receiving these sorts of threats.

“A big TV cannon comes over to me and tells me that if I do not suck his cock, then he will ruin my career. I said no.” With this announcement, the TV presenter Sophie Linde brought the worldwide solidarity movement #metoo to Danish media, reaching thousands of women.

Too often, online and offline harassment and threats, including threats of sexual violence are seen as the price women and non-binary people are expected to endure for speaking out. Together with the growth of social media and other internet platforms, attacks are able to reach more people from a wider number of sources, both named and pseudonymous. This leads to an even more hostile atmosphere for women journalists and media workers (TrollBusters & WMF 2018). Online harassment too often forms part of women’s daily routine; it is not an exception to the rule, it is rule. Moreover, it is not only the online environment where women face threats, with the offline world punctuated by similar types of threats. Threats faced offline are a global issue and they emerge from a number of different sources.

Online harassment too often forms part of women’s daily routine; it is not an exception to the rule, it is rule.

According to an IFJ report in 2017, 17 % of gender-based violence is perpetrated by colleagues, 38% by managers or supervisors, and 43 % by outsiders (IFJ 2017).

You cannot talk about media freedom violations without talking about gender

For example, in North Macedonia, you cannot talk about media freedom violations without talking about gender based violence and harassment. As monitored by The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM), 14 violations of media freedom have taken place since the beginning of 2020. Half of these targeted women. This issue has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic in unexpected ways. The 2020 Assembly election campaign took place against the backdrop of increased restrictions and lockdowns to respond to the pandemic. This resulted in most campaign events taking place online. While journalists have been physically assaulted during previous campaigns, with the events moving online, the abuse that followed in 2020 took on an explicitly gendered dimension with the targeted being predominantly women.

The complex mixing of being a women journalist

The two examples mentioned earlier exemplify different kinds of threats but follow similar structures: using existing power inequalities and deploying physical violence or threats to intimidate women journalists by restricting their space and attacking their willingness to speak out. While women journalists and media workers are more visible in public and able to voice their opinion, outdated misogynistic ideas surrounding gender roles and expectations of media representation feed the wide range of media freedom violations in Europe, ranging from online harassment, abuse in the public areas, up to physical violence and even murder. Women journalists and media workers face a double threat, the daily impact of structural inequality and the dangers working as journalists at a time where media actors are increasingly dehumanised or attacked. This results in a complex mixing of structural discrimination that impacts women disproportionately and may encourage many to step back from their work.

Women journalists and media workers face a double threat, the daily impact of structural inequality and the dangers working as journalists at a time where media actors are increasingly dehumanised or attacked.

Gender-based harassment as threat to democracy

This hostility when coupled with insecure working conditions cause trauma, fear, anxiety and mental health issues for the affected. This atmosphere requires significant resilience to continue working especially on sensitive and complex topics, such as corruption, abuses of power and increasingly, mainstream politics. Expecting women journalists and media workers to endure these threats as part of their day-to-day to work is unreasonable and demonstrates significant barriers to continuing work not present with their colleagues. Instead it is much more likely that this double burden leads to silencing and self-censorship of women journalists. Living in such consistent fear results in a reduced space within which they can work and express their expertise and opinions. This is an issue for the entire media environment as this threatens the plurality of voices present in society, narrowing the public sphere and as a result weakening democracy.

It is not only the victims themselves at risk; these threats affect us all, from our ability to access information that shapes our knowledge relating to the world around us to having our experiences represented in the media that can inform public opinion or policy.

Insights from Mapping Media Freedom platform

The monitoring platform mappingmediafreedom.org has registered around 63 alerts where women journalists were targeted or directly affected. Of course, this will only ever be a partial picture, as many victims do not report threats they have received or have come to expect them as the price for working as a journalist or media worker. These dynamics have also made it hard to accurately gauge the impact of gender-based harassment amongst journalists in Europe. According to the IFJ 2017 report, 48% of women journalists experienced violence at work.

Gender-based violence? #ReportIt!

The cases monitored to date already show the variety of threats women journalists face. They are diverse in intensity, geographical dissemination, source and nature. However, capturing as many incidents on Mapping Media Freedom helps us track, analysis and record these incidents. It is also a powerful act of solidarity to those at risk, demonstrating that they are not suffering alone.

Although the platform cannot singlehandedly dismantle the structure that sustains these threats, it is an effective tool to plot trends and see the bigger picture of what the situation is and of what needs to be done. The Media Freedom Rapid Response can only support the cases we know about and reporting every incident helps us reach those at risk.

We want to encourage everybody to report every kind of threat and abuse of women journalists and media workers to https://www.mapmf.org/report-it or you can contact our Women’s reporting point.

Gender-based violence is not normal, nor should it be accepted. It is a threat to media freedom and democracy. #ReportIt!

ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here: https://www.mappingmediafreedom.org/report-it

 

Photo: Clem Onojeghuo//unsplash

The photo shows journalistts working during yellow vests, while police officers are pointing with a flash ball gun directly towards the viewer.

#ReportIt: Not a “normal procedure” – Police violence against the press in Europe

By | Mapping Media Freedom, ReportIt

by Martin Hoffmann, Vice Chair of the European Institute for Journalism and Communication Research (EIJC), Editor with ZDF heute journal and Researcher for ECPMF

113 journalists and media workers in EU Member States and Candidate States have suffered physical violence from police officers since 2014, according to MappingMediaFreedom.org. German video reporter Julian Stähle is one of those who have been attacked for carrying out their work. When filming a special services operation in the Berlin region, Stähle was injured when an officer suddenly threw him to the ground. However, it was Stähle who found himself in court. The officer who denounced him claimed that the reporter had started the confrontation. Two of his colleagues testified in support of this fiction. It took a year to prove that he was the victim of  the German police, not the perpetrator. Stähle was finally able to show his video-footage of the incident in the court. The footage was so damning that it made one of the officers who had just testifying under oath faint. Stähle’s experience of the police’s use of arbitrary violence caused public outrage and it remains one of the most egregious cases of police violence in Germany, while also demonstrating the extent to which police officers can attempt to avoid justice. Unfortunately this was not an isolated case. During the May Day demonstrations in Berlin this year a police officer hit a female camera-assistant so brutally, that several of her teeth were knocked out.

While this type of case is quite rare in Germany, in France the level of police violence against reporters is far more severe. In the first six months of the “Yellow Vests” protests, which began in November 2018, Reporter without Borders counted 54 journalists injured by police officers. 42 of them were severely injured. Journalist David Dufresne, who set up a monitoring process due to the increased reports of police misconduct connected to the Yellow Vest protests has registered several hundred cases of unethical behaviour. Every attack and every failure to respond undermines France’s commitment to media freedom and the underpinnings of democracy. If things are bad, the recently introduced National Policing plan will not improve matters. Designed as an approach for a “better consideration of the presence of journalists during law enforcement operations” as French minister of interior, Gérald Darmanin, called it, the current plan appears to miss its mark. It discriminates against journalists who are not holding officially accredited press cards, preventing them from wearing protective clothing such as helmets when covering demonstrations, while also enabling the police to exclude journalists from remaining in a crowd after police warnings.

Every attack and every failure to respond undermines France’s commitment to media freedom and the underpinnings of democracy.

But police violations of journalist’s rights happens across Europe. At the beginning of September 2020 in Sofia, Bulgaria, a camera team reporting on anti-government-protests were sprayed indiscriminately with pepper spray by police forces, others got allegedly hit with batons, while freelance journalist, Dimiter Kenarov was detained and allegedly kicked in the head by at least two riot police officers. Another alarming example of police misconduct was seen in Serbia during anti-lockdown protests in July where within only one week, 28 journalists were attacked by both police and protestors, as reported by the BIRN-network, other media outlets  and the Media Freedom Rapid Response.

These developments are even more concerning, when there is an increased need of proper police protection for journalists and media workers during their work. Demonstrations are currently the most dangerous situations for journalists to work both in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. More than 20 Percent of all violations against journalists occurred at demonstration sites in the first nine months of this year, according to data of MappingMediaFreedom.org. In Germany, 75 Percent of all violent attacks with political background were registered at demonstrations or in surrounding the environment.

These developments are even more concerning, when there is an increased need of proper police protection for journalists and media workers during their work.

This data demonstrates the increased necessity of building a professional and trustful relationship between press and police. To explore the current conflict and share perspectives, the Press Freedom Police Codex developed by the ECPMF and its partners formulates eight guidelines as to how police in Europe should support the work of the free press. The first rule states: Any violence by police staff against journalists is unacceptable. Even though this should be common sense in European democracies, it requires greater levels of awareness from the public, the police and politicians to ensure cases like the one of Julian Stähle are properly sanctioned and perceived as unacceptable to every police officer.

It is important to remember that in the police’s case against Stähle, their first reaction was for the head of the department to state unequivocally that the officer’s actions were correct and the assault and detention was “quite a normal procedure”, as Stähle resisted the instructions from the police. This approach may attempt to insulate police from further criticism, but does little to protect journalists and media workers. In fact, it is emblematic of a structural problem seen across Europe that, if left unaddressed, positions police officers, not as sources of support, but as sources of fear and distrust.

ReportIt calls for all people to stand in solidarity with at-risk journalists and media workers by reporting all violations of media and press freedom to Mapping Media Freedom. Help us fight the normalisation of threats against journalists and stand up for media freedom by taking part here: https://www.mappingmediafreedom.org/report-it