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Open letter signed

Reach, Women in Journalism and Reporters Without Borders launch joint campaign calling for better police response to online abuse.

Open letter signed
Dr Rebecca Whittington: “We know from research that women in journalism are suffering in their professional and personal lives due to online harassment and often sexually violent threats.”

More than 100 leaders in media and journalism have joined Women in Journalism, Reporters Without Borders and Reach in signing an open letter calling for a change in police response to online violence against women in the industry.

The letter has been sent today, International Women’s Day 2024, to police leads and politicians on the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists and also to Lucy Frazer MP, the secretary of state for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It has been signed by editors, broadcast leaders, industry representatives and journalists from across the UK.

The campaign, called Stop The Cycle, follows an investigation by Reach which highlights the inconsistency of police recording of reports of online crimes made by journalists. Freedom of Information requests submitted to five police forces that were known to have dealt with reports of online threats or harassment targeting journalists were rejected due to the lack of consistent documentation of the victims' occupation, added the publisher. A sixth police force found no results for the information requested, despite a report having been lodged, the publisher continued.

The letter stresses the need for a more consistent police approach to handling, recording and reporting online crimes against journalists, highlights the frequency and impact of online violence, threats, harassment, hate crime and sexual crime against women in media industries, and warns of their damaging impact on diversity and press freedom.

Signatories include over 100 media leaders, including Chief Digital Publisher at Reach David Higgerson, ITN CEO Rachel Corp, Simon Pitts for STV, Owen Meredith for the News Media Association and Clothilde Redfern for The Rory Peck Trust. Other signatories include Katharine Viner for The Guardian, Tony Gallagher for The Times, Victoria Newton for The Sun, and journalists including Marianna Spring, Sangita Myska, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Lindsey Hilsum, Robert Peston and Carole Cadwalladr.

Other editorial leaders at Reach who have joined the call include Caroline Waterston from the Mirror and Gemma Aldridge from the Sunday Mirror, Gary Jones from the Express, Sarah Lester from the Manchester Evening News and Maria Breslin from the Liverpool Echo.

Dr Rebecca Whittington, online safety editor for Reach and a member of the advisory committee for Women in Journalism, said: “We know from research that women in journalism are suffering in their professional and personal lives due to online harassment and often sexually violent threats. We also know online threats happen regularly and that the outcomes can be serious, but the response can be inconsistent and without reliable data we cannot hold those responsible to account. For too long women in journalism and media have been subjected to unacceptable online harm, we have to work with police to break this cycle and make our industry safer for women now and in the future.”

Fiona O’Brien, the UK director of Reporters Without Borders, said: “Online violence against women journalists - often sexualised or misogynistic - has risen alarmingly in recent years and can have a devastating impact, both on individual lives and on freedom of the press more widely. It’s vital that police step up and work with the industry to ensure victims are supported and perpetrators brought to account. No one should have to suffer abuse because of their job.”

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