- Freedom of Press is an important part of democracy.
- Journalists contribute to the society by spreading awareness among the general public about various ongoings around them.
- Online harassment, which is very prevalent these days negate the positive influence of media by scaring and threatening them.
- Different countries around the world have come up with legislatures and precedents to ensure protection of all journalists from bullies and trolls, whether physically or online.
Media might be regarded as the fourth pillar of a democracy, the other three being the legislature, executive and judiciary. The media helps uncover truths and contributes a great deal towards shaping the opinions of the general public in the ways they gather information and present them to the benefit of the public. It is through the media that the general public are made aware of various happenings around them locally, nationally and internationally.
Violence against media, and by that, the journalists has become a common phenomenon around the globe. Such attacks range from attacks imposed on them by the Government officials, politicians, to the general public who are dissatisfied by the stories covered and presented by them. Earlier the banter would be limited to the physical acts of violence inflicted on them, due to which several journalists have suffered physical injuries and some of them even had to pay the price of their uncovered truths with their lives.
With the upsurge of digitalisation, presenting news and covering stories in various digital platforms including social media, journalism has evolved to mark its spectre among the internet community in addition to the television and print media platform.
The journalists have always faced the wrath of the people who feel exposed or fear exposure due to the stories curated by them. They have also sustained injuries from the followers and admirers of such influential people who fear their social images or standpoints might be ruined due to such news.
It is easier to troll or bully any individual over the internet since the anonymity of the bully is maintained and the entire activity of trolling or harassing is done under the shield of anonymity. That way they show their true colours from behind the screen without disclosing their identity, so it is very very feasible and effective in order to dissuade and discourage the journalists from pursuing such stories.
Observing the fate of various journalists in the department of online harassment, which hinders the freedom of expression of the press and media, and obstructs the free flow of information from the ends of several journalists due to several bullies or trolling which been in the rise, and such a sorry state of events has induced concerns on almost all levels of life : locally, nationally or internationally.
Such harassments are faced more by woman journalists around the globe in comparison to the male ones. The UN General Assembly observed the same, and in 2017, unequivocally condemned all "specific attacks on women journalists in the exercise of their work, including sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence, intimidation and harassment, online and offline.” This was in connection to many woman journalists silenced, scared, threatened and were forced to quit on their jobs due to the cyber bullies and trolls who managed to fulfil their objective by forcing them to deviate from their jobs of spreading awareness amongst the seekers of truth.
Following the observations of the UN General Assembly regarding the lack of protection and security the society offers to the media in terms of journalism, several countries and relevant international organisations have drafted regulations and legislatures which strive to ensure the safety of such professionals.
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.”
The International Press Institute (IPI), in cooperation with the Al Jazeera Media Network, the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and the Africa Media Initiative (AMI), together devised a proposition to lead globally, and set standards and guidelines about the best practices in journalism and how best to protect themselves from online harassment or harassment in person. In order to fulfil these goals, IPI and its international partners have worked together to draft the International Declaration on the Protection of Journalists, which summarises international principles related to the protection of journalists operating in dangerous environments, emphasising the responsibilities of states to guarantee journalist safety and combat impunity, and highlights steps and remedies that media organisations and journalists should consider in order to strive for greater safety.
Canada provides protection to the journalists there by the Protection of Canadians against Online Crime, 2015 which deals with cyber bullying of any sort. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides that everyone has the fundamental freedom of “thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and the media communication.”
Finland considers interfering the peaceful interaction in the online environment and enjoying the connective services, a punishable offence.
Spain does not have any specific Acts or regulations to prevent online harassment of journalists but it does prevent cyber-bullying and online harassment in general.
Singapore, in its Prohibition of Online Harassment Act, 2014 prohibits the intentional or reckless issue of a communication that is threatening, abusive, or insulting, which is heard, seen, or otherwise perceived and likely to harass or cause alarm or distress or instill in a person fear or provoke violence.
INDIA ON PROTECTING JOURNALISTS FROM ONLINE HARASSMENT
Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India bestows upon all its citizens the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court in the case of Romesh Thapar v State of Madras, took it for granted that the freedom of speech and expression comprised of the freedom of Press as well. The right to freedom of press includes the right to propagate and circulate ideas in any platform, television, print media or online.
The Supreme Court of India in Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) (P) Ltd. v. Union of India has stated:
“In today’s free world freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse. The press has now assumed the role of the public educator making formal and non-formal education possible in a large scale particularly in the developing world, where television and other kinds of modern communication are not still available for all sections of society.
India has no legislation specifically pertaining to the protection of journalists from online bullying, but Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, provided an opportunity to genuine victims of cyber harassment to obtain immediate relief against content that may be insulting or injurious in nature, abrogation of which has now made Police authorities toothless in dealing with the growing menace of cyberbullying.
Proper journalism is important for the general public for being aware of the surroundings as well as making informed decisions with respect to various economic, political and other avenues of life and living.
Even though India is the biggest democracy in the world, the fourth pillar of democracy, the media is not given sufficient space and freedom to present the news on various platforms. It ranks 14th on the list of countries where journalists are harassed the most. The trolls who bully the journalists who present or cover any story which shows the ruling party in the Centre, i.e. Bhartiya Janata Party, are regarded as “yoddhas” or soldiers and are encouraged to discourage journalists from reporting any negative report about themselves or their political ideologies and activities as a whole.
The right to freedom of press is ancillary to the Freedom of speech and expression in the Indian Constitution.
Nonetheless, investigative journalist Rana Ayyub had been subjected of relentless doxing, online abuse and violent threats including death threats in India. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the targeted online harassment of the journalist and demanded swift and urgent action from the authorities to protect her from further harassment.
We need to come up with strong legislatures and precedents for protection of journalists from online harassments in order to ensure the fourth leg of the democracy to function smoothly, such that no private individual or group of individuals reconsider bullying the journalists when their reports do not served their purpose.