ISLAMABAD: As the world observed International Women’s Day, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) on Wednesday drew attention to the attacks, harassment and abuse that women journalists in Pakistan face on a daily basis and urged the need for tackling assaults on women in the media.
In a statement issued here, PPF demanded the physical and mental safety of women journalists. While journalists as a whole in Pakistan face numerous challenges including physical attacks, online harassment and threats of attack within a restrictive media landscape, the attacks on women journalists usually involve their character assassination besides personal attacks.
During a series of political rallies in May 2022, journalists on the ground were subjected to acts of violence. In one such instance, Samaa TV’s reporter ZamZam Saeed was injured after being attacked by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) supporters in Karachi.
In a tragic accident, Channel 5 reporter Sadaf Naeem lost her life after being run over by a container during PTI’s long march in Punjab.
Sadaf Naeem’s death was tragic and highlighted the need for safety training for those working in the media. It should serve as a wake-up call for the media, political parties and authorities organising such rallies about necessary arrangements needed to ensure the safety of journalists on the field, the statement added.
It added that along with physical attacks, journalists had in particular, come under attack online. Hateful messages, morphed images and vile messages about women journalists were often shared on social media platforms.
Leading women journalists had on repeated occasions become the target of campaigns that were sometimes led or supported by political parties.
PPF drew attention to August 2020, when a group of Pakistani women journalists issued a statement highlighting the nature of the abuse they were experiencing. According to the joint statement, women were targeted for their viewpoints, particularly regarding the government’s handling of Covid-19, making it “incredibly difficult” for them to carry out their professional duties.
The joint statement noted that women journalists were called “peddlers of ‘fake news,’ ‘enemy of the people’ and accused of taking bribes (often termed ‘paid’ journalists or ‘lifafas’).
Additionally, they said that their social media timelines were, “Barraged with gender-based slurs, threats of sexual and physical violence,” and attempts to hack their accounts.
PPF had observed that political rhetoric by senior political leaders also targeted women journalists or made excuses for the abuse they faced.
This was a dangerous precedent that could further lead to inciting attacks or abuse against these journalists.
Laws passed for the protection of women in the workplace and for the safety of journalists and media professionals must be implemented in order to ensure that a safe work environment for women in the media can be created, PPF asserted. The lack of acknowledgement, seriousness and effort to counter such acts must also be changed with a concerted effort to document and condemn such attacks.
Both the Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act, 2021 and the federal-level Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021 guaranteed protection against harassment, the statement added.
The Sindh-level law went a step further by differentiating between broader harassment and sexual harassment, which defined sexual harassment as defined in the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010. These laws should provide a legal avenue for protection against harassment within the workplace through effective implementation, the statement added.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2023
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