Pakistan: (PPF) As the world observes International Women’s Day, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) calls attention to the attacks, harassment and abuse that women journalists in Pakistan face and urges the need for tackling such attacks on women in the media. The safety — both physical and mental — of women journalists must be ensured.
While the media as a whole in Pakistan faces numerous challenges including physical attacks, online harassment and threats of attack within a restrictive media landscape, the attacks on women journalists additionally take on a gendered nature focussed on character assassination and personal attacks on them.
During a series of political rallies in May 2022, journalists on the ground were subjected to acts of violence. In one such instance, woman journalist Samaa TV reporter ZamZam Saeed was injured after being attacked by Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) supporters in Karachi.
In a tragic accident, Channel 5 reporter Sadaf Naeem lost her life after being run over by a container PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan was travelling in during his political party's “Long March” in Punjab.
Naeem’s death was a tragic loss of life that highlights the need for safety training for the media. It should serve as a wake-up call for the media, political parties and authorities organizing such rallies about the necessary arrangements needed to ensure the safety of journalists on the field.
Along with physical attacks, women journalists have in particular come under attack online. Hateful messages, morphed images and vile messages about women journalists are often shared on social media platforms. Leading women journalists have on repeated occasions become the target of campaigns that are sometimes led or supported by political parties.
In August 2020, 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 has observed that political rhetoric by senior political leaders also targets women journalists or makes excuses for the abuse they face. This is a dangerous precedent that can further lead to inciting attacks or abuse against these journalists.
On October 18, 2022, PTI chairman Khan stated that NewsOne anchorperson Gharidah Farooqi was opening herself up for attacks by entering male-dominated spaces. Khan referenced Farooqi and said: “Gharidah Farooqi enters the crowd and then complains of harassment”.
In a tweet, Farooqi shared that in response to a question regarding the trolling and attacks on journalists, Khan replied: “If Gharidah Farooqi shoves herself with men, then this will happen.”
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. 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 guarantee protection against harassment. The Sindh-level law goes a step further by differentiating between broader harassment and sexual harassment, which defines 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.