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Practical and legal tools to protect the safety of journalists

From impersonation accounts to hateful slurs and death threats, journalists around the world are facing increasing levels of abuse in an attempt to intimidate or force them into silence. In response, the Thomson Reuters Foundation – in collaboration with UNESCO, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and the International News Safety Institute (INSI) – has developed a suite of resources for journalists, media managers and newsrooms to strengthen responses to online and offline abuse.  

What is ONLINE HARASSMENT?

Online harassment can take a variety of forms, from unmistakable insults and threats, to more vicious means such as stalking or online impersonation. It can be orchestrated by organised political groups and ideological movements or carried out by a few isolated individuals. It can remain purely virtual, or give rise to subsequent physical attacks, for instance when a journalist’s private or personally identifiable information is broadcasted online (doxxing).

It is particularly difficult for journalists to protect themselves from it, as the use of online resources and exposure on social networks are often essential to their work. The lack of a clear path to legal recourse means most of these crimes end up being treated as an occupational hazard, often leaving victims feeling vulnerable and isolated.

To address this critical gap in the protection of journalists, this site provides legal guidance on how journalists and newsrooms can seek to deal with online harassment, be it to identify punishable offences, to seek help from appropriate organisations, to efficiently gather evidence and to take steps should they decide to file a complaint against the perpetrators. This information is available below and on the Resources page. 

Practical Guide for Women Journalists on
Responding to Online Harassment

Afghan staff of Zan TV station (women's TV) discuss in their newsroom in Kabul, Afghanistan
REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

This guide provides concrete actions that women journalists can take both in limiting the risk of certain types of digital attacks and when facing harassment and gender-based violence online. The guide includes information on how to document abuse and potential remedial action.

This guide is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian.  

Author: The content was developed by Ela Stapley, IWMF under the coordination of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and UNESCO. Dechert LLP generously provided pro bono research.

Checklist and Guidelines on
Gender-Sensitive Safety Policies

Developed for editors and media managers, this checklist and set of guidelines provide newsrooms with best practice advice for creating a culture of safety in the workplace, both online and offline.

The document also outlines how to establish a culture within the organisation that effectively tackles sexual harassment and creates a safe environment for journalists to report cases of harassment. It includes a checklist that summarises the guidelines, and covers a range of measures and mechanisms that can be put in place to ensure that safety policies and practices within newsrooms are gender-sensitive, gender-responsive and address gender-based sexual harassment.

This is available in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian. 

Author: The content was developed by Ela Stapley, IWMF under the coordination of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and UNESCO. Dechert LLP generously provided pro bono research.

A journalist works at the newsroom of the headquarters of Cadena Capriles in Caracas June 3, 2013.
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

ONLINE ATTACKS AGAINST JOURNALISTS:
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS GUIDE

A worker of Current Time, a Russian-language media platform, sits in a newsroom at Radio Free Europe headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic, February 7, 2017.
REUTERS/David W Cerny

This practical guide provides journalists with concrete legal tools to deal with online harassment: to identify punishable offences, seek help from appropriate organisations, gather evidence efficiently, and take the correct steps should they decide to file a complaint against the perpetrators. Where applicable, it also presents examples of litigation initiated by journalists who were victims of online harassment.

It covers the legal rights of journalists in Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom (England and Wales) and the United States.

Author: The guide was commissioned by INSI and UNESCO and facilitated by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The following law firms provided pro bono legal research: Baker McKenzieKLA – Koury Lopes AdvogadosSimmons & Simmons LLPArthur CoxPaul HastingsIntel CorporationDLA PiperDechert LLPLatham & Watkins LLPBowmans and Nishith Desai Associates.

Some crimes can be prosecuted but require the victim (or a representative of the victim) to file a criminal complaint in order to begin prosecution proceedings against the perpetrator(s). If you are a victim of such a crime (or the representative of one) you have six months from the time the perpetrator(s) are identified to file a criminal complaint and request that they be prosecuted.

Some crimes require the government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, to prosecute the alleged perpetrator(s) whether or not the victim presses charges. Crimes of this nature are subjected to what is called unconditional public prosecution. If you are a victim of a crime subjected to unconditional public prosecution and have reported the crime, no further immediate action is required on your part in order to ensure the perpetrator(s) are prosecuted.

Some crimes give both the government and the victim the option to press charges against the perpetrator(s). They do not, however, require the government to step in and prosecute as crimes subject to unconditional public prosecution do. If you are a victim of such a crime, you have six months from the date it is committed against you to request the state pursue charges against the perpetrator(s). The government, represented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, also has six months to file charges against alleged perpetrator(s) whether or not the victim requests it. If you are a victim of a crime that is subject to conditioned public prosecution and wish to see the perpetrator(s) prosecuted, you will need to be proactive in requesting that charges be filed and/or following up with the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ensure they file charges and begin prosecution proceedings.

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