The internet is everywhere and it has become near impossible to imagine a life without it, especially for working professionals who heavily depend upon the web for information, networking, and communication. And journalists are no different.
In fact, without the internet, many journalists would find it difficult to gather information and do research for their reports and articles. However, there is a flip side to this, especially if you happen to be a female journalist. As part of their job, many journalists - male and female - join several virtual groups in order to be keyed in to breaking news, gather sources, and share their stories.
However, the sexist and misogynistic attitudes we see in real life are reflected in the virtual world, too, and what's more, it's often worse since the victim and perpetrator don't even see each other.
When Mangalam TV in Kerala came out with its questionable "scandal" involving a minister who'd allegedly been 'honey-trapped' by a woman journalist, the repercussions were immediate for those in the profession. Already called names like "presstitutes", these women had to additionally battle the perception that female journalists were out to "trap" men for juicy stories. The trolling and name-calling extended to the Internet as was only to be expected.
In Hyderabad, several female reporters claim that they have been victims of cyber bullying and harassment. According to S Jayaram, ACP, cyber crime, 80% of victims in this category are women. And it's not surprising that female journalists who interact with several people a day and share their numbers with them also face cyber harassment.
Most, however, choose to ignore the problem, believing it to be an unpleasant but unavoidable part of their profession.
“I get these messages from random people who get my number through Whatsapp groups, and they ask for my name. They just see a woman reporter in a group and start texting. They keep saying I like your display picture, can we be friends, etc. I just ignore these kind of questions. We can block them on Whatsapp and that's a good thing,” says Sheela*, a reporter working for the print medium in the city.
Being a daily beat journalist, Sheela has joined several groups on Whatsapp and Facebook. She says many of the members who are part of the same group indulge in cyber stalking and sending her unwanted messages.
Like her other female colleagues, Sheela says this is a common phenomenon.
“It has never gone far enough that I had to file a case, but yes, it is a form of harassment which journalists face, specially women reporters,” she says.
Jasnam*, another reporter, says, "Getting creepy messages from random people is common. A lot of my reporter friends are the victims of these kind of messages. Though I have never received any abusive messages, some of my sources do try to flirt with me. Mostly these men are students whom I might have called once for quotes or stories. They save my number and do this."
She also adds that she's helpless when it comes to handling the situation - even if she doesn't like the kind of messages she's receiving.
“I can’t be rude to them. They are sources.. if I'm rude to them, there will be no information from their side the next time I need it. Better to ignore and move on. And because I get information for my stories, I don’t block or leave a Whatsapp group. Sometimes they insist on meeting, but I give excuses,” she shares.
Male journalists, however, say that they have never faced such an issue.
Shankar, who writes for a print publication, says, “I have never faced anything like that, and never heard any male reporter talking about this either."
Another male reporter, Pawan*, notes that the random messages he receives are mainly from PR persons.
“Most of the calls and message I get are of PR persons checking if their content has been published or not. But I usually do not get stalking messages,” he says.
Women expressing an opinion or divergent view is usually not welcomed in a patriarchal society where assertiveness remains the prerogative of the man. Sushma*, a film reporter, finds this to be true every time she writes something negative about a film star.
She has been subjected to trolling several times.
“This is really common. When I write something negative about a popular movie star, I get trolled on social media. Initially I used to feel humiliated, but then I realised that it doesn’t matter. People are jobless, they need entertainment, they will forget after some time, why should I waste my time and energy thinking about it?” she asks.
Bhuvana*, another reporter, believes in speaking up. Though she says she hasn't been harassed too much, she threatens to complain whenever it happens.
“I say that I am a reporter and am friends with cops, so they feel scared and stop texting. I remember a few years back, I used to get ‘be my friend’, ‘can we meet’ and ‘cute display picture’ kind of messages frequently. But now, I don’t get those kind of creepy messages.” she says.
*Names changed to protect privacy