Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary said: “This evidence demonstrates that much more needs to be done to tackle the growing scourge of harassment and attacks against journalists. The Action plan endorsed this year by the government’s National Committee for the Safety of Journalists is a vital part of that work. We need a cultural change to stop this abuse and unacceptable behaviour from being normalised – this is not, and must not be allowed to become, part of a journalist’s job. No worker should have to contend with threats of violence and intimidation. We want to see a zero-tolerant approach, with greater reporting, better policing and robust sentencing, to protect journalists and journalism.”
Last summer, the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport held a Call for Evidence on Journalist Safety to “understand the nature and volume of threats, abuse and violence that they face in the course of their work and their attitudes towards the response provided by employers, social media platforms, and the police and judiciary”.
The results have been published and the main findings are:
- More than a third of women respondents indicated that they did not feel safe operating as a journalist in the UK.
- Just over 4 in 5 journalists experienced threats, abuse or violence as a result of their work. These incidents included abuse, intimidation, threats of violence, violence, death threats, bullying, sexism, racism and homophobia.
- The majority of respondents did not report all incidents to platforms, police and employers, due in part to poor confidence they would be taken seriously.
- The threats and abuse had an impact on journalists and their behaviour both professionally and personally. This included influence on their journalistic output.
- Social media in particular was identified as making journalists more accessible and at risk, leading to precautions such as changing privacy settings to avoid anonymous online abuse.
- Journalists reported low confidence in the police and platforms dealing with incidents, with employers seen more ambivalently.
- A growing number of protesters and activists now target media and film crews with intimidation and threats of violence.
- One in five said they did not report incidents to their employer because they saw receiving threats, abuse or violence as part of their job, and one in 10 because they felt it could harm their career prospects. However, one in six did report all incidents to their employer.
- Half of female respondents had also experienced sexism during the course of their work. A third of respondents from ethnic minority backgrounds reported experiencing racism.
The report quoted journalists saying:
“I’ve stopped working on particular stories as a result of intimidation - not scared off but just don’t want to suffer the aggravation so moved on to something else.”
“I feel less safe in undertaking the work that I do when covering certain demonstrations. It makes me less inclined to cover such events, which, of course, is the intention of those perpetrating the violence and issuing threats.”
The report said those surveyed said the police contributed towards threats or abuse towards journalists: “This included police physically restricting access to spaces, arresting journalists, and holding negative conceptions about the role of journalists which affect how they treat them.”
Respondents called for greater engagement with the police “to gain a better understanding of the journalistic profession and journalists’ role in society”.
Journalists also believed that ministers and other politicians contributed to this negative attitude towards journalists.
The report concluded that “the evidence confirms that further research is required to build a more robust picture of the issues covered in this Call for Evidence, including analysis of experiences across demographic and other characteristics, and to track change over time.”
The Call for Evidence received 360 responses from journalists between 2 June and 14 July 2021 and a further 130 responses later.