Journalists in Britain say they are facing an increasingly hostile atmosphere, with intimidation, physical assault and online abuse now seen as routine.
Britain’s National Union of Journalists (NUJ) surveyed its members on their experiences of intimidation and abuse in September and October this year. More than three-quarters of the 319 respondents agreed that it “has become normalized and seen as part of the job.”
Fifty-one percent reported receiving abuse online, with women and ethnic minorities particularly targeted.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the NUJ, said numerous studies have shown that online threats can often translate into physical abuse.
“If you’re being threatened with rape, if you’re being threatened with grotesque violence, your family members, your children are being threatened over social media, you can’t simply think, ‘Don’t feed the trolls, don’t engage with it,’ ” Stanistreet told VOA. “You have to take those threats very seriously. And even if you weren’t, the very fact that this content is appearing in your life, in your home, is incredibly unsettling, and it’s affecting people’s mental health and their well-being.”
One in five respondents reported having been physically attacked. Journalists in Northern Ireland reported increasing threats and assaults. The killing of Lyra McKee, 29, who was shot as she reported on rioting in Derry in 2019, underlined the ongoing dangers that journalists face in the region.
Many respondents said abuse and intimidation had worsened under the coronavirus pandemic, especially during public demonstrations and protests; they reported “having their camera equipment targeted and damaged, and in some instances being physically assaulted,” Stanistreet said.
A quarter of respondents said they had made changes to the way they work in response to violence, threats or abuse. One in five reported making changes to home or personal life as a result of the experiences.
Many of those surveyed blamed politicians for stoking a hostile climate for media.
“Some of the rhetoric we’ve seen targeting the work of journalists, dismissing stories that don’t meet with their approval as ‘fake news,’ attacking so-called campaigning newspapers — it’s made the climate … particularly challenging for people who are simply trying to do their jobs,” Stanistreet said.
The British government says it is considering new legislation requiring social media companies to take responsibility for threatening and abusive material on their platforms.