LAWS PROTECTING JOURNALISTS FROM ONLINE HARASSMENT

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This article has been written by Bhavya Verma, a student of JIMS Engineering Management Technical Campus, School of Law.

The fundamental right of the freedom of press implicit in the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The Indian Press Commission says that “Democracy can thrive not only under the vigilant eye of the legislature but also under the care and guidance of public opinion and the press is par excellence, the vehicle through which opinion can become articulate.”

It is a known fact that journalists face grave dangers and undertake enormous risks in reporting inconvenient facts about powerful lobbies. Moreover, freedom of the press is a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right (Art. 19) and it is the collective duty of citizens and authorities to uphold the right. The threats are a violation of that very right.

A global study conducted by the International Federation of Journalists that surveyed 500 women journalists in 50 countries found that 44% of them had experienced online abuse. More broadly, a study by the International Women’s Media Foundation and International News Safety Institute found that nearly two-thirds of women journalists had experienced some form of intimidation, threats, or abuse in relation to their work. Online violence, physical violence in the field, and sexual harassment at the workplace all combine to make journalism an unsafe work environment for women. One can hardly forget the case of Gauri Lankesh, a journalist known for speaking out boldly against the establishment, who was assassinated in her house in Bengaluru a little over two years ago, after receiving death threats online.

Recognizing these concerns in 2017, the United Nations General Assembly issued a resolution on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity addressing violence, intimidation, and harassment of journalists, especially female journalists, online and offline. The General Assembly called upon states “to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.”

Concerned by the increased online harassment and trolling on female journalists, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 2017 initiated the Byteback Campaign to fight against cyberbullying calling for strong action to stop cyber-bullying and online harassment of women journalists.

Sandhya Ravishankar approached the city police commissioner on March 14, 2017, with a complaint about the harassment and threats and has since been provided police protection over her reporting of illegal beach sand mining in Tamil Nadu, India and IFJ express serious concern over it. Ravishankar approached the city police commissioner on March 14, 2017, with a complaint about the harassment and threats and has since been provided police protection. Ravishankar has also filed a complaint with the Press Council of India in which she had stated that she had been harassed online with trolls on social media using foul language against me, calling me a ‘corrupt’ journalist, and a ‘fake’ journalist. Her mobile number was published on social media by anonymous trolls and she began receiving a flood of abusive and threatening calls from unknown people.

Investigative journalist Rana Ayyub has been subjected to relentless doxing, online abuse, and violent threats including death threats in India. She filed a criminal complaint at the Saket Police Station in New Delhi on April 26, 2018.

The IFJ said: “The IFJ is seriously concerned by the online harassment and trolling of investigative journalist Rana Ayyub in India. The incident where fake accounts were used against her shows the level of threats that female journalists face online and the lack of mechanisms to stop such harassment. The IFJ demands immediate action from the authorities to protect her from further harassment, threats and potential attack. The IFJ also urges the social media companies to set in motion concrete measures and mechanisms to ensure such acts are not tolerated.”

There are laws implemented by the legislature such as the Indian Penal Code and Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2005, etc.

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