NEW YORK — Sexualized violence, online harassment and gender-based discrimination all play a role in inhibiting press freedom according to a new book released by the Committee to Protect Journalists on Wednesday.
The book is part of the organization’s annual “Attacks on the Press,” series. The 2016 edition brings together essays by CPJ staff and outside experts highlighting the challenges and courage of journalists facing gender-based threats.
CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch said the idea of examining gender’s role in limiting press freedom Came up about five years ago when CBS correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted while covering Arab Spring protests in Egypt.
“We really realized there was a lack of focus on the issue and since then we have tried to raise awareness,” Radsch said in a telephone interview.
Radsch said one of the things CPJ found examining the issue is that being a woman or transgender can cut both ways. Sometimes female reporters have better access to wives and daughters in conservative societies and transgender sources can more feel more comfortable opening up to reporters who also belong to gender minorities. Other times sources may overshare with female reporters because they do not take them seriously, she said.
“Impact of gender on press freedom is not a unidirectional negative thing, but it is complicated,” Radsch said.
Radsch also points out that women are underrepresented on lists of journalists who are missing and killed. In 2015, only nine women were among the 199 journalists imprisoned, according to CPJ.
Sometimes it’s a case of women journalists not getting the plum assignments and at other times it’s because women may be sexually assaulted rather than imprisoned or killed, Radsch said, noting that it’s often very hard to get information about sexual assaults.
In an attempt to remedy that lack of information, CPJ turned to personal stories to make the issue more understandable, Radash said.
In one essay, Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima described being raped as an attempt to punish her for her reporting on arms trafficking but said she still found the strength to carry on. Another essay details the challenges faced by gay and transgender journalists who suffer discrimination both inside and out of the newsroom.
Kathleen Carroll, CPJ’s vice chair and executive editor of The Associated Press, contributed an essay discussing how to help resolve some of those issues, suggesting that sometimes news managers who show a nurturing side can help staff overcome difficult situations.
“The spectre of sexual assault was one reason women were kept out of the field (with a few notable exceptions) for so many decades,” Carroll said. “It was a bogus excuse to hold women back. But it is a real threat, one that, like other threats to both women and men, requires training, preparation, risk assessment and tough decisions for all involved. And those newsrooms must have leaders who are knowledgeable, engaged, compassionate and tough in equal measures.”
“Attacks on the Press,” is being launched at the Newseum in Washington and at Columbia University in New York.