Iraq is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists according to Reporters without Borders, ranking 160 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Women journalists and activists in Iraq have a particularly difficult time due to online threats and attacks that adversely affect their ability to express themselves freely and advocate effectively. Women have witnessed an escalation in online abuse over the past few years, not just in numbers, but also in methods and sophistication. The risk of harassment and gender-based attacks online is not limited to the digital space as research has shown that online abuse and stalking often escalate into real world physical violence if left unaddressed. In an interview with The New Arab, Hala ‘Asif, a 24-year-old journalist working as a correspondent for the channel NRT in Baghdad, noted that, "Foreign journalists often investigate political affairs in Iraq, which sometimes is impossible for us to cover as it would be too dangerous and would prevent us from working safely in our country. I would like to go to other provinces in Iraq and carry out investigations about relevant issues, but as a young woman it would cost too much to take care of my safety." To address the issue of women’s safety in Iraq, Internews is using a multi-pronged approach – building local networks, coordinating advocacy, and conducting targeted journalism trainings on gender-sensitive issues. Internews’ program, Women Voices (Aswat Al-Maraa), aims to challenge societal attitudes that stigmatize survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by supporting journalists and women human rights defenders to shed light on sensitive issues through coordinated reporting and advocacy. The program works with female Iraqi journalists and media outlets to create a nationwide coalition of women journalists and human rights defenders to strengthen their resilience against gender-based attacks and build the capacity of journalists to report on sensitive human rights and SGBV. Within the Women's Voices project, Internews has conducted so far two training-of-trainers (TOT) workshops that focus on the digital and physical security of the project participants. Through a peer-to-peer program, TOT trainees have trained eighty women from Erbil, Najaf, and Halabja how to protect themselves from threats online and in their everyday lives. Best practices for password security proved to be one of the most beneficial portions of the workshops, with one of the Halabja participants noting, "It has been 10 years and I haven't changed my password on my email or Facebook accounts. This workshop was in particularly important to remind people in our field of work how important it is to protect ourselves online as we do offline." Another participant, from the Erbil workshop, said, "Females often have to face extreme scrutiny of their presence online, and are threatened with death in some instances for photos posted online without family consent or that are considered inappropriate; these kinds of workshops are incredibly important for every female in this country." To support the voices and participation of women in some of the world’s most challenging places, Internews' MENA team ensures the implementation of digital as well as a physical security trainings in all of its projects across the region.
Journalist Safety and Security
To play their vital watchdog role in society, journalists need the skills and training to keep themselves safe from digital and physical threats.
Around the world, independent media and individual journalists face increasing threats to themselves and their sources. Hostile governments, political groups and organized crime intimidate and silence the press with false accusations, threats, and acts of violence, including digital attacks and censorship.
Internews supports journalists with tools and training to detect, prevent, and counter digital, physical, and legal threats to their safety. Our work raises awareness of resources available to journalists, develops locally-relevant guides, methodologies, and toolkits, and creates networks of support and common practice among working journalists.
In Focus: Environmental Reporters Face Increasing Threats
In recognition of the growing threats facing environmental reporters, Internews' Earth Journalism Network conducts workshops on security and safety that provide participants with a better understanding of the threats they’re likely to face, from physical harassment or assault to online risks, such as hacking or invasion of information privacy. The security experts who lead the sessions offer tips on how they and their colleagues can better protect themselves. In the videos below, reporters share their experiences dealing with safety and security challenges:
Current Threats Facing Journalists: Red Batario, Journalism Trainer
5 Safety Tips for Journalists: Trainer Red Batario
Threats to Women Reporters: Imelda Abano, Filipina Journalist
When Reporters Face Threats From the Authorities: Samison Pareti, Journalist
Impact: How Women Journalists Stay Safe in Iraq
To address the issue of women’s safety in Iraq, Internews is using a multi-pronged approach – building local networks, coordinating advocacy, and conducting targeted journalism trainings on gender-sensitive issues.
"Females often have to face extreme scrutiny of their presence online, and are threatened with death in some instances for photos posted online without family consent or that are considered inappropriate; these kinds of workshops are incredibly important for every female in this country.” —workshop participant from Erbil
Resource: How Funders Can Support Digital Safety
As part of Media Impact Funders' (MIF) new report — Global Media Philanthropy: What Funders Need to Know About Data, Trends and Pressing Issues Facing the Field, — Rowan Reid, Internews Project Director for Journalist Safety, and Marjorie Rouse, Senior Vice President for Programs at Internews, wrote a section arguing that a shrinking civic space and advanced technological means of attacking, surveilling, and silencing critics should concern all those who support civil society and other development objectives, and especially those who work with independent, investigative and community news organizations.
In 2014, Milady Cruz created Diario El Periodista, an outlet committed to principled and accountable reporting in El Salvador. In 2016, she lost a year's worth of reporting after the publication's web site and her personal email were hacked. Milady used her life savings to restore the website and rebuild Diario. In November 2016, she participated in a USAID-supported Internews regional bootcamp in Guatemala, where she learned the basics of digital and physical security from leading regional experts and expanded her data and investigative journalism skills.
Read more: “Facing Digital Threats to Independent Media”
Opinion: Journalists' Safety is the Issue of Our Time
Writing in EUReporter, Internews CEO in Europe Daniel Bruce applauds the recent push by the UK government to declare 2019 a year of diplomatic and practical action on press freedom and journalism safety. But he argues that beyond decrying the most egregious attacks on journalists, we must work internationally to build robust, resilient local media that can withstand and outlast external pressures.
"The need to equip the world’s journalists with tools to perform to the best of their ability – to do so safely and in the knowledge that crimes against press freedom will not be met with impunity – is massive and growing."