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We're the independent peak body for organisations, practitioners and individuals promoting gender equity in Victoria.

GEN VIC and MEAA Release Australia’s First Report Targeting Online Trolling of Women Journalists

GEN VIC and MEAA have today launched Australia’s first effort aimed at addressing online abuse of women journalists, in a report identifying the responsibility of media organisations to support the online safety of both in-house and freelance journalists.

The ‘Don’t Read the Comments: Enhancing Online Safety for Women Working in the Media’ report recommends that media organisations should begin treating gender-based abuse against women journalists on social media and websites as an issue of health and safety and take more responsibility for ensuring that women journalists are supported in the aftermath.

The report was launched tonight by the Minister Gabrielle Williams, Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, and follows research that a vast majority of journalists had experienced online harassment, trolling and stalking during the course of their work, but only 16% said they were aware of their workplace having existing policies to address online abuse.

The event panel featured: Fiona Patten, MP; Ginger Gorman, author of ‘Troll Hunting’; Bhakthi Puvanenthiran, Editor of ABC Life; Karen Percy, Journalist and MEAA Media Section Vice President; Josh Bornstein, National Head of Employment Law at Maurice Blackburn, and saw videos from journalists Van Badham, Kate O’Halloran and Giselle Nguyen highlighting that online abuse as a critical issue for the media industry and a matter of occupational health and safety.

The event sparked a call for a united industry approach by media organisations is to combat the prevalence of online harassment and abuse of women media workers with an online campaign for media

“For better or worse, social media and other online platforms are part of the modern journalist’s workplace, and online abuse and harassment must be treated as a workplace health and safety issue.” Said Adam Portelli, Regional Director of MEAA.

“While men and women are both trolled online, it is women who are often receive abuse because of their gender, that takes the form of sexist and derogatory comments, through to serious accusations of physical harm such as death and rape threats.” said Kit McMahon, Chair of GEN VIC “Online abuse has very real impacts on women’s mental health, where women report experiencing depression, panic attacks and sleep disturbance, which also impacts on their ability to do their work for fear of further abuse.” Said McMahon.

“In the modern publishing age, journalists are expected to have a presence on multiple digital platforms, and it is unacceptable that they feel unsafe because of bullies, trolls and stalkers,” said Portelli.

The recommendations contained in ‘Don’t Read the Comments’ are:

  1. A whole-of-organisation approach to address systemic and structural sexism in the workplace.
  2. Training on gender, implicit bias and bystander intervention for all staff in a media organisation.
  3. Treating gender-based abuse against women journalists on social media and websites as an issue of workplace health and safety.
  4. Moderation guidelines and training that explicitly address gendered and other identity-based abuse as a subset of abuse that requires a strong response from the organisation.
  5. Requiring audience members to complete a simple comprehension quiz before they are permitted to comment.
  6. Requiring commissioning editors to provide specific support for freelance journalists even after the story has been published and invoices paid.

The full report is available here.