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Press Freedom And Reporting While Female

Cover of 2016 edition of CPJ's Attacks On The Press: Gender And Media Freedom Worldwide.

Cover of 2016 edition of CPJ's Attacks On The Press: Gender And Media Freedom Worldwide.

A recent essay collection from the Committee to Protect Journalists taps experiences of women in the field to connect gender and media freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) highlighted gender-based threats to journalists in its 2016 edition of Attacks on the Press, the New York-based media watchdog’s annual survey of issues relating to press freedom around the globe.

In the introduction to Attacks On The Press: Gender And Media Freedom Worldwide, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon pinpoints the 2011 brutal assault on CBS Correspondent Laura Logan in Cairo’s Tahir Square as the moment when media organizations began paying serious attention to the danger of sexualized violence against women journalists. Simon admits the difficulty both media organizations and press freedom groups initially found in raising awareness of the dangers faced by women in the field without reinforcing editors’ traditional resistance to sending women into the field in the first place.

The study manages to express the severity of the problem while offering pragmatic suggestions to mitigate risk and keep women reporting on the ground where their voices are needed.

Female journalists face certain dangers such as sexual assault and sexual harassment far more often than men...

Published in May, the survey consists of 16 essays, all first-hand accounts from journalists and press freedom advocates who recount their personal experiences with discrimination, restricted access to newsmakers, imprisonment, physical and sexual attacks, and digital harassment.

The personal stories illustrate how rape and sexual assault are used as a tool to control the media, but the essays also demonstrate how the right tools and skills can help keep women safe.

In an essay titled “Preparing For The Worst,” Karen Coates, a senior fellow at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, recounts her experience participating in security training in Uganda as part of a 2015 International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) reporting fellowship.

“Female journalists face certain dangers such as sexual assault and sexual harassment far more often than men, which is why gender-specific security training such as the IWMF hosts is becoming more widespread and increasingly viewed as essential,” Wrote Coates.

Arzu Geybullayeva, a freelance writer based in Istanbul, wrote about Azerbaijan, where her colleague, internationally recognized investigative reporter and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, was imprisoned because of her reporting on corruption among members of the country’s ruling family in December, 2014. In 2012, in an attempt to intimidate her, she received photos of a private nature that were taken without her knowledge or permission and circulated on the internet, accompanied by a note that read “Whore, behave, or you will be defamed.”

“In Azerbaijan, gender-related attacks are among many mechanisms used in attempts to silence critical media, and they are not limited to women,” wrote Geybullayeva. “Men, too, have been the targets of sexual revelations. In many cases, such attacks are precursors to imprisonment.”

The survey also explores the complexities of digital harassment with chapters on what makes a troll tick, and what can be done to combat online attacks without compromising freedom of speech.In a fascinating essay titled “My Islamic State Social Network,” International Business Times Correspondent Alessandria Masi, a non-Muslim single woman, details how she reported on Islamic State via social media and became a target of the militant group’s recruitment efforts because of her gender.

“Online reporters generally make their own set of rules for self-preservation. Don't read the comments. Don't engage the trolls on Twitter. Don't answer demeaning Facebook messages. Don't respond to hate emails,” Masi wrote. “Being a woman reporter online involves following the same rules [as men do], but the insults generally stem from my gender and not my work.”

The collection makes an important contribution to understanding how gender and journalism intersect, a question that has only lately emerged in the discussion of global media freedom.

--Emily Thompson