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March 8, 2024

News industry urges police to ‘break cycle of abuse’ against women in journalism

Four-point safety plan proposed for women journalists in the UK.

By Charlotte Tobitt

More than 100 journalists and media industry leaders have signed a letter to UK police chiefs asking them to “do everything you can to break the cycle of abuse that risks sidelining women from journalism”.

The letter, led by Reach, Women in Journalism and Reporters Without Borders, asked three police representatives on the Government-coordinated National Committee for the Safety of Journalists to take action in four ways that could help “secure a safer future for women working in journalism in the UK”.

Scroll down to see the full letter and list of who signed it

The journalists fear that a “significant” increase in online abuse against women in journalism over the past decade could impact media freedom and diversity by making them want to leave the industry.

Research conducted by Women in Journalism and Reach last year found that 18% of around 400 women journalists who responded had considered leaving the media industry altogether as a result of abuse and threats online.

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The letter, sent on Friday to mark International Women’s Day, said improving the recording of crimes against journalists and whether attacks are as a result of their work would help reveal the scale of the problem and, as a result, allow effective responses to be found and social media platforms to be held to account.

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It also asked for these statistics to be regularly reported back to the committee and government.

It asked for national guidance and training for police to be issued so they can understand the “gendered nature of online violence, the connections between online and physical violence, and best practice in dealing with such crimes”.

Finally it called for better dialogue between police forces and journalists “to ensure attacks can be quickly reported and effectively dealt with and perpetrators held to account”.

National newspaper editors to have signed the letter include ex-Women in Journalism chair and former Mirror editor Alison Phillips who left the newspaper group a month ago and her successor Caroline Waterston, the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People’s Gemma Aldridge, The Guardian’s Katharine Viner, The Observer’s Paul Webster, Chris Evans at The Telegraph, Tony Gallagher at The Times, Sun editor-in-chief Victoria Newton, Reach Scotland editor-in-chief David Dick and Gary Jones at the Express.

Broadcasters showing support include Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford, who last week coordinated a separate letter calling for international journalists to be allowed into the Gaza Strip, Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman and international correspondent Lindsey Hilsum, ITV News presenters Julie Etchingham and Mary Nightingale and political editor Robert Peston, and BBC disinformation and social media correspondent Marianna Spring – who alone is the target of more than 80% of online abuse flagged within the BBC.

Editors of regional brands across Reach and Newsquest, including the Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo and Belfast Live, are also represented.

Also signing was Women in Journalism chair and ITN chief executive Rachel Corp, who said in an interview around mental health this week: “Unfortunately, there are still things which are harder for women as journalists, particularly around online safety and the kind of abuse people can receive.”

Reach is the biggest commercial news publisher in the UK and unusually has an online safety editor working to support staff and work on internal and external measures to try and crack down on abuse. The third partner behind the letter, Reporters Without Borders, has published multiple reports about online harassment and sexism affecting journalists.

Full letter sent to police chiefs:

Violence against women working in journalism in the UK has increased significantly over the past decade, much of it conducted online. While all journalists may be subject to online abuse, women are far more likely to experience gendered attacks: recent research showed that three-quarters of women working in the UK journalism and media industries had experienced rape or death threats, harassment, stalking, misogyny or sexual approaches online in connection to their work.

We are deeply concerned about the impact of online violence on media freedom and diversity. Research conducted by the UK’s largest commercial publisher Reach Plc and Women in Journalism (1) found women were leaving front-line jobs in journalism and minimising their online profiles in order to avoid online violence against them. There is also compelling evidence (2) to show that women of colour, women who openly share their faith, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities, and women from working class backgrounds are significantly more likely to experience violence and hate online. The chilling effect of online violence – likely to get worse as we head towards elections – stifles press freedom and creates spaces for disinformation to thrive; it also risks making journalism less diverse at a time it needs more than ever to be representative.

We are also worried about the impact on individuals. Women journalists who experience serious online violence, such as stalking, death or rape threats, or receiving unsolicited pornographic content from anonymous accounts, report long-term impacts on their professional and personal lives, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is a growing awareness of the link between online and physical violence; fear that online attacks may lead to ‘real-life’ attacks is palpable among those who experience violence online.

Yet despite the rise in online violence, there are worrying inconsistencies in the way police handle, record and respond to online crimes against women journalists nationwide. Women journalists reporting online crimes to police often feel their case is quickly dismissed, or that their fears are perceived as an overreaction – a fact which adds to their trauma and makes it all the more likely they will leave the profession.

We need to stop this cycle. The cycle of women feeling unsafe in their work. The cycle of women feeling unheard. We need to secure a safer future for women working in journalism in the UK.

So today, on International Women’s Day, we come together to ask you – as police representatives charged with working on the safety of journalists –  to work with us for change. We have four simple asks which could make a world of difference to our industry both now and in the future:

  • Improve the recording of crimes against journalists. Accurate reporting – including clearly recording when attacks are related to a journalist’s work – is essential if we are to understand the scale of the problem, formulate effective responses and hold social media platforms to account.
  • Provide national-level guidance for police on online violence against journalists, and training on the gendered nature of online violence, the connections between online and physical violence, and best practice in dealing with such crimes.
  • Report back to government. As police representatives on the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists, we call on you to regularly report back figures of crimes against journalists to the Committee.
  • Improve dialogue between police and industry. Police forces should establish direct and effective channels of communication with journalists and representative bodies to ensure attacks can be quickly reported and effectively dealt with and perpetrators held to account.

Today, we as journalists and media leaders join Reporters Without Borders UK, Women in Journalism and Reach Plc to ask you to do everything you can to break the cycle of abuse that risks sidelining women from journalism. Let’s work together to break the cycle and secure a safer future for women working in journalism.

Full list of signatories on the letter:

  1. Alex Crawford – Foreign correspondent, Sky News
  2. Alex Stepney – Policy and External Affairs Director, News UK
  3. Alison Gow – Media consultant
  4. Alison Phillips – Journalist
  5. Andrew Colley – Regional Editor, Newsquest Cumbria
  6. Anna Highfield – Senior News Reporter, Architects’ Journal
  7. Anthony Baxter – Deputy Managing Editor, LBC Newsgathering
  8. Antonella Mulè – Chief Strategy and Corporate Development Officer, Reach
  9. Anu Anand – Journalist
  10. Benedicte Paviot – France 24´s UK Correspondent
  11. Carole Cadwalladr – Journalist, The Guardian and The Observer
  12. Caroline Waterston – Editor, Mirror
  13. Catherine Philp – World Affairs Editor, The Times
  14. Cathy Newman – Presenter, Channel 4 News
  15. Chris Evans – Editor, The Telegraph
  16. Christina Lamb – Chief Foreign Correspondent, Sunday Times
  17. Clothilde Redfern – Director, Rory Peck Trust
  18. Colin Hume – Head of Learning & Development, National World
  19. Daisy Wyatt – Associate Editor, The Daily Express
  20. Daniel Gorman – Director, English PEN
  21. David Dick – Editor In Chief (Scotland), Reach Plc
  22. David Higgerson – Chief Digital Publisher, Reach Plc
  23. Dawn Alford – Executive Director, Society of Editors
  24. Deborah Bonetti – Director, Foreign Press Association in London
  25. Dhruti Shah – Freelance Journalist
  26. Dominic Ponsford – Editor-in-Chief, Press Gazette
  27. Donna Ferguson – Award-winning freelance journalist
  28. Donna-Louise Bishop – Specialist reporter (obituaries), Newsquest
  29. Dr Maja Šimunjak – Senior Lecturer in Journalism
  30. Dylan Jones – Editor-In-Chief, Evening Standard
  31. Edd Moore – Audience and Content Director, South West, Reach plc
  32. Eoin Brannigan – Editor-in-Chief, Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life
  33. Fiona O’Brien – UK Director, Reporters Without Borders
  34. Fleur Launspach – UK correspondent Dutch national news NOS
  35. Gary Jones – Editor, Daily Express and Sunday Express
  36. Gavin Foster – Editor, Northern Echo
  37. Gavin Thompson – Regional Editor, Newsquest Wales
  38. Gemma Aldridge – Editor, Sunday Mirror and The People
  39. Graeme Brown – Editor, Birmingham Mail and BirminghamLive
  40. Hanna Geissler – Health Editor, Daily Express
  41. Hannah Storm – Media Safety Consultant and Co-Director, Headlines Network
  42. Helen Dalby – Audience and Content Director, Reach
  43. Hilly Janes – Associate Lecturer, Media School, London College of Communication
  44. James Brindle – Chief Executive Officer, The Journalists’ Charity
  45. James Evelegh – Editor, InPublishing
  46. James Harding – Editor and Founder, Tortoise Media
  47. Jenny Kean – Writer and researcher
  48. Jessica Ní Mhainín – Policy and Campaigns Manager, Index on Censorship
  49. Jodie Ginsberg – CEO, Committee to Protect Journalists
  50. John Crowley – Editor, FT
  51. John Wilson – Editor, Hereford Times, Newsquest
  52. Jonathan Paterson – Managing Director, The News Movement
  53. Joy Yates – Regional Editor, Newsquest Cumbria
  54. Julie Etchingham – Anchor, ITV News at Ten
  55. Karin Goodwin – Co-editor and Journalist, The Ferret
  56. Karyn Fleeting – Delivery Director, Reach Plc
  57. Katharine Viner – Editor in Chief, Guardian News & Media
  58. Katie French – Regional Editor, Newsquest
  59. Leona O’Neill – Journalist
  60. Liam Fisher – Head of talkSPORT
  61. Lindsey Hilsum – International Editor, Channel 4 News
  62. Lisa Bradley – Deputy Head of Journalism, University of Sheffield
  63. Liz Green – Journalist, broadcaster
  64. Liz Nice – Editor
  65. Marcela Kunova – Editor, Journalism.co.uk
  66. Maria Boyle – Luxury travel writer and PR director
  67. Maria Breslin – Editor, Liverpool Echo
  68. Marianna Spring – Disinformation and social media correspondent, BBC
  69. Martin Little – Audience Transformation Director, Reach Plc
  70. Mary Nightingale – Presenter, ITV Evening News
  71. Michael Adkins – Senior Editor, Newsquest
  72. Michela Wrong – Journalist and Author
  73. Michelle Stanistreet – NUJ General Secretary
  74. Natalie Fahy – Editor, Nottinghamshire Live
  75. Nic Keaney – Managing Editor
  76. Owen Meredith – CEO, News Media Association
  77. Patricia Devlin – Investigative Journalist
  78. Patrick Ward – Print ACE
  79. Paul Caruana Galizia – Reporter, Tortoise Media
  80. Paul Linford – Publisher, HoldtheFrontPage
  81. Paul Webster – Editor, The Observer
  82. Professor Julie Posetti – Global Director of Research, International Center for Journalists; Professor of Journalism, City, University of London.
  83. Rachel Corp – CEO for ITN and Chair of Women in Journalism
  84. Rana Rahimpour – Freelance Iranian-British journalist
  85. Rebecca Whittington – Online Safety Editor, Reach
  86. Richard Duggan – Regional Editor North West, Newsquest
  87. Richard Porritt – Regional Editor, Newsquest
  88. Richard Reeves – CEO, AOP (Association of Online Publishers)
  89. Richard Wallace – Head of TV, News UK
  90. Robert Peston – Journalist
  91. Rodney Edwards – Editor, The Impartial Reporter
  92. Ruth Hardy-Mullings – Head of Content
  93. Sangita Myska – Journalist & LBC Radio Presenter
  94. Sarah Collins – Editor at talkSPORT
  95. Sarah Lester – Editor, Manchester Evening News
  96. Sarah Macdonald – Founder/Director Make Waves Ltd
  97. Sharmeen Ziauddin – Editor in Chief, She Speaks We Hear
  98. Sheena McStravick – Editor, Belfast Live
  99. Simon Murfitt – Senior Editor, Newsquest London
  100. Simon Pitts – Chief Executive, STV
  101. Sonya Thomas – Freelance Journalist and Writer
  102. Sophia Smith Galer – Freelance Journalist and Content Creator
  103. Steffan Rhys – Editor, WalesOnline
  104. Tim Lethaby – Regional Editor, Newsquest South West
  105. Tim Levell – Programme Director, Times Radio
  106. Toby Granville – Editorial Development Director, Newsquest
  107. Tony Gallagher – Editor, The Times
  108. Victoria Macdonald – Health and Social Care Editor
  109. Victoria Newton – Editor-in-Chief, The Sun
  110. Wayne Ankers – Editor, YorkshireLive
  111. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – Journalist, Columnist, Author

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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