By Jael Lutandila
A Bradford journalist has highlighted the growing issue of abuse received by journalists online.
Natasha Meek, of The Telegraph and Argus, said in a tweet that it was “unacceptable” for journalists to be treated in such a way as they are people “just like you” doing a job.
Natasha’s tweet comes after a survey found that 80 per cent of regional journalists said the problem of abuse had got “significantly worse” since they began their careers.
The findings come from a survey by Newsquest Oxfordshire editor Samantha Harman, who set up a cross-publisher group with representatives from Reach, Archant and JPI Media earlier this year.
Many have said they’ve quit or want to quit the profession and, in the most serious cases, have contemplated suicide.
In June 2020, The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has also demanded an end to attacks on journalists after seeing several incidents that saw journalists and crew members being attacked and threatened during the Black Lives Matter protests in June 3rd, 2020 in London.
The police in the UK have reinforced the message to respect the vital role of journalists and their right to carry out their work safely.
Two reporters at The Argus newspaper in Brighton, Aiden Barlow and Rose Lock, know only too well the dangers of online and offline abuse and its real-life impacts.
Rose, who is 31, just completed her NCTJ training in 2019.
The reporter had never considered abuse when entering the journalism career path.
However, she has quickly become aware of the problem in her first few months working as a reporter.
She said: “Negative, nasty and personal comments are a widespread problem online – directed both at our journalists and at the people featured in stories.
“Mostly I don’t let it get to me, but it can be disheartening when you are working hard and juggling so much, to read something like that.”
The Argus crime reporter Aiden Barlow has often received numerous threats and abuse which he said has become part of being a crime reporter.
Barlow called these abuses a difficult part of performing his job.
He confirmed that over the course of his career, the abuse of journalists has increased.
This has included regular abuse on social media and constant accusations of reporting ‘fake news’.
He declared: “Outside court I have been spat at and left in fear of being attacked.
“The regular abuse I received can often make me feel quite down and depressed.
“Even though I know the abuse I get is from people who know nothing about me, it still feels personal.
“My own experience includes regular voicemails, phone calls, social media threats, email abuse and face to face anger and abuse.
“It has included people threatening to track down my family and stab them.
“People tell me they will ‘find me’ and ‘get me’,” he told Yorkshire Voice.
Rebecca Whittington, a journalism lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, believes that the internet and social media have changed the way journalism is conducted in both positive and negative ways. The abuse of journalists online has risen as they are now conducting most of their work in the public eye.
Dr Whittington has called for a line to be drawn between constructive criticism of a product and the approach, harassment, threats and verbal intimidation towards journalists, as this could become a factor in stemming the flow of people going into journalism in the future.
She said: “In the past, there were few policies on how to manage individual targeting online and negative comments, but companies are also wising up and offering much more support to journalists who are facing harassment or abuse.
“So, while the situation is grim, there are at least moves being made by industry to support journalists in this situation.”
Laura Collins, the editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, in July launched a Call It Out campaign, asking readers to help play their part in making social media platforms a better place by reporting abusive online behaviour.
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO) promotes the safety of journalists, combats impunities for those who are attacked and supports press freedom on all media platforms. For more information on their plans of action on the safety of journalists visit their website on: https://en.unesco.org/themes/safety-journalists/partners