Newsrooms in the UK have increasingly adopted measures to addressing the online harassment of journalists, according to a new International Press Institute (IPI) report today.
These measures include step-by-step newsroom guidelines for preventing and reacting to online harassment; formal and informal peer support; trauma risk management and mental health first aid; guidelines for using social media; and moderation of online comment sections.
An IPI delegation last year interviewed managing editors, social media editors, journalists and audience engagement staff at a wide range of UK newsrooms including BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, the Daily Mirror and Reuters. IPI also held a focus group with freelance journalists. The report reflects the findings from those interviews, describing the nature of online harassment in the UK and newsroom efforts to combat it.
Online harassment of journalists has become increasingly common in Europe and the UK is no exception. Attacks against UK journalists are triggered by topics that have proven flammable across Europe, including immigration and right-wing political groups and actors. Any coverage of Brexit has the potential to spark harassment. Television journalists are especially targeted as are women journalists and journalists belonging to minority groups. The harassment takes place through posts on social media and news website comment sections and in some cases through email.
Still, newsroom countermeasures to harassment are in many cases more advanced in the UK than in other countries studied by IPI. Several UK newsrooms have already introduced guidelines for journalists and managers that include both preventive and reactive measures and spell out clear steps and chain-of-command when dealing with harassment. Additionally, a number of newsrooms have put in place voluntary trauma risk and mental health training for newsroom staff to better recognize and limit emotional and psychological impact. IPI is currently building an online platform to share newsroom countermeasures across Europe.
A clear area of difficulty remains the role of social media companies. Editors expressed an urgent need for greater cooperation with social media platforms and called for these platforms to provide more direct assistance to newsrooms, such as an emergency hotline, more help in monitoring and shutting down harassment and greater possibilities to track reports of abusive messages. Newsrooms also highlighted a need for greater flexiblity in enabling or disabling comments.
The report was conducted as part of IPI’s Ontheline project, which highlights the impact of online harassment on press freedom and examines newsroom and other measures to combat it. IPI previously conducted extensive newsroom visits to Spain, Finland and Poland. In December, IPI partnered with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of a Media on a documentary film on the harassment of female journalists.