Program Summary: “Truth Tellers: Surviving the Truth”, UN CSW 65, 22 March 2021
Journalists around the world face online and physical harassment, arrest, rape and death threats for their work. At the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women March 22, FAMU Professor Dr. Michelle Ferrier hosted a panel with women journalists and leaders to urge the U.S. government to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as a first step to providing protections for female journalists.
CEDAW is an international bill of rights for women. The convention defines what actions constitute discrimination against women and suggests ideas for national actions to end such discrimination. It has been ratified by 189 countries, but is yet to be approved by the United States.
The parallel event, “Truth Tellers: Surviving the Truth,” on March 22 brought Ferrier together with women journalists, researchers and technologists – including United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Dubravka Simonovic, who shared recommendations drawn from her 2020 report on violence against journalists. The report cites Ferrier’s 2018 research into online harassment and the harms to journalists in “Attacks on the Press: The Impact on Female Journalists and their Reporting.” As the founder of TrollBusters, Ferrier has provided global support, training and research to journalists under attack online.
Hosted by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television and WINGS, Ferrier was joined on the panel by Filipino journalist Lady Ann Salem, who had been detained just days before in prison using a strategy called “red pilling.” Lady Ann Salem’s legal counsel, Kristina Conti of the Phillipines; Parul Kaul, co-founder of the Alphabet Workers Union, the organization founded to support colleagues like Dr. Timnit Gehbru, the former AI ethicist that was fired from Google for her research.
Ferrier, the founder of TrollBusters set the tone, “We should push back against the narrative that this kind of online and off-line violence is part of the job, that this is something that we as journalists signed on for when we became journalists.”
Ordinary people can play an important role
Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women views the silencing of journalists from a human rights framework. On an individual level, she suggests people should give visibility to arrests of women journalists. Violet Gonda, IAWRT’s international president, said people should apply real pressure on political leaders. Citizens living in different countries should call upon their governments to implement measures that fix discriminatory practices, like the suggestions made in CEDAW.
Women journalists should also share their stories to help other women who are in a similar predicament. Attorney Kristina Conti from the Philippines recommends connecting with the closest human rights community. Reporters should also reach out to their local communities. “We as journalists are too distanced from the people that we are serving,” said Sheila Katzman, USA president of IAWRT.
Nations should make efforts to protect the fourth estate
Šimonović proposes the idea that it is the state’s responsibility to prevent violence against reporters, support victims, and prosecute perpetrators. So, different countries around the world should build complaint mechanisms to capture the number and types of attacks.
A global problem should be addressed with global solutions
International organizations dedicated to connecting and serving journalists can help media workers who are under threat. Lady Ann Salem, a journalist from the Philippines, was recently released from prison and shared her story during the session. She was wrongfully imprisoned on a weapons trafficking charge after an illegal search and seizure of her home and equipment. Salem received global support from groups such as IAWRT who created international attention to her detention. Šimonović also recommends there should be networks that help journalists with navigating the legal framework, by providing funding for lawyer charges.
Journalists and law enforcement should join hands
Šimonović suggests that journalists should work with judicial arms to release journalists that may be jailed on frivolous charges and investigate the prosecution. Atty. Konti added that in the Philippines, the journalism community believes that libel should be a civil offense instead of a criminal offense. A senate bill in Florida, USA is an example of such work. The SB1556 titled “Offenses Against Members of the Press” was introduced by Sen. Janet Cruz and it aims to protect journalists from hate crimes by enhancing penalties for crimes against journalists.
The silencing of journalists should stop
The most important take-away from the two-hour discussion was that women journalists who are facing online harassment, physical threats, arrest and other dangers should get the help they need. Šimonović said, “Women journalists should know that there are spaces dedicated to them, they are not alone.”