A full house of nearly 300 people attended yesterday’s world premiere in Vienna’s Stadtkino of the documentary film “A Dark Place”, which reveals the extent and impact of online abuse against female journalists and the risk it poses to pluralism and freedom of expression.
The film, produced by the Office of the Representative of Freedom of the Media of the OSCE in cooperation with the International Press Institute (IPI), features interviews with nearly two dozen journalists, lawyers and academic experts in eight countries, portraying the personal, professional and societal consequences of a growing scourge targeting women who engage in critical reporting.
For many of the women interviewed in the film, online threats of rape and death, smear campaigns and sexualized verbal abuse have become a constant hazard of the profession.
“Critical journalists in Turkey have been accused of being traitors for some time now”, Banu Güven, a prominent Turkish journalist, notes in the film. “But if you’re a female journalist, then in addition to being a traitor, you become a bitch, you become a whore, you become someone who should get raped and murdered.”
Filmed and directed by IPI Head of Digital Communications Javier Luque, the documentary emphasizes the resolve of female journalists to work in spite of the abuse but echoes concerns about the potential loss of women’s voices in the absence of serious efforts to tackle the issue.
“I don’t know a single female journalist who will stop doing what they’re doing because of what’s going”, Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s first female political editor, says. “What I worry about is younger women and girls wanting to come into the profession.”
Featuring stories from countries as varied as Azerbaijan, Finland, Russia, Serbia, Spain, the UK and Turkey, the film makes clear that the harassment and abuse of female journalists is a phenomenon that extends even to countries with traditionally strong guarantees for press freedom.
“Some political leaders are very critical, and of course the phrases ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’ have empowered ordinary people to feel that they can be very abusive”, John Daniszewski, vice president and editor at large for standards of the Associated Press, comments.
The premiere, which closed the 2018 “this human world” human rights film festival in Vienna, was followed by a panel discussion with several of the women interviewed. The panellists were asked whether they felt safe doing their job.
“No, I don’t feel safe”, Marija Vučić, a journalist with the Serbian investigative news outlet KRIK, said. “But I feel unsafe not because of right-wing extremists or crazy people out there, but because the state institutions don’t protect us.”
Vučić noted that more than a year had passed without any progress in a police investigation into a death threat that she received via Facebook.
Still, the film offers positive examples of journalists who fought back using legal means against attackers. Finnish journalist Linda Pelkonen filed criminal charges after being harassed and threatened following an article she wrote in 2015. Earlier this year, two men were convicted and sentenced in what Finnish observers have called a precedent-setting ruling.
Pelkonen told the audience she was grateful for the film as an opportunity “to acknowledge what a huge problem (online harassment) is”.
“A Dark Place” was filmed over several months in Austria, Finland, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey the UK, the U.S. The film forms part of the OSCE’s #SOFJO (Safety of Female Journalists Online) campaign. It will be made available online to the public at a later date.