For the past fifteen days, female journalists and anchorpersons in Pakistan have aggressively and vehemently taken up the issue of online trolling, abuse, and harassment at the hands of different political parties. The campaign has more specifically focused on the activities of the social media team of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Taken at face value, the complaints against the party do not seem entirely misplaced.
These women journalists and anchorpersons have also issued a combined written statement in which they have listed down their personal experiences related to the abuse and harassment they face on the internet from people who differ with their viewpoints on a host of domestic and international topics of concern.
Below is a joint statement by women journalists and commentators in Pakistan against online abuse and trolling by government officials and Twitter accounts which declare their affiliation to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. #AttacksWontSilenceUshttps://t.co/oF6WkM4YWN pic.twitter.com/cN2iuXhDgh
— Benazir Shah (@Benazir_Shah) August 12, 2020
The National Assembly (NA) Standing Committee for Human Rights had earlier this month also summoned these women journalists for a session aimed at understanding the problem, in which the women presented firsthand accounts of the torment they go through on digital media. Pakistan People Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari chaired the meeting as the head of the committee.
Several important questions regarding online abuse were raised after the meeting. Are only female journalists and anchorpersons facing trolling, abusive behavior, and harassment on social media? Or does this phenomenon transcend the gender divide? In my opinion, the issue transcends gender and political divides. A few examples might better illustrate my point of view on the matter.
The ‘campaign of hate’ against Kamran Khan
Kamran Khan is an experienced and distinguished journalist, with a wide following across the country. In recent days, Khan has faced an online campaign of abuse and harassment at the hands of the ‘social media brigade’ on several networking platforms. No decent human being would desire to read or hear the kind of language Khan has had to face on the internet for the past few weeks.
One of the accusations often leveled against Khan is that he is pro-PTI, and maybe there is some truth to this assertion, as a number of his tweets and video blogs in recent months have focused on the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. However, Kamran Khan has always strived hard to shed this partisan image. He has never been abusive towards other political parties, or to the people who have differing views from him. Khan, in typical gentleman fashion, chooses not to reply to internet trolls who throw filth at him.
Scrolling through the Twitter timeline of Khan after his interview with the PM aired on a national news channel, it was clear that he was being personally abused and threatened by those who were less than impressed with his program.
However, I can say with a certain degree of certainty that Khan will remain unfazed by this campaign of hate. Already, Khan has chosen to reply to the abuse by engaging in genuine political and social debates on social media, rather than retorting back in anger and disgust at the insults being hurled at him. Perhaps this is something female journalists can also practice when faced with the same kind of a problem.
The woes of Matiullah Jan
Jan, an accomplished journalist and a gifted writer, has faced all kinds of persecution throughout his career. He has faced online abuse, harassment, joblessness, and even physical assault at the hands of hidden forces for the principled stance he takes on issues of national importance.
However, Jan does what any professional would do in such a situation, he never engages with the trolls and strives to be a role model for others, avoiding the use of foul language against those who want to push him to do exactly that.
Despite the sacrifices Jan has made for the progressive cause over the years, he was recently defeated in an election at the National Press Club. This indicates that the comrades of the veteran journalist are not very supportive of him. Jan, ever graceful in defeat, has taken the setback in his stride.
The disappointments of Qaseem Saeed
Many people do not know Qaseem Saeed. But in the journalistic community, Saeed is highly regarded as an honest, upright, and well-learned reporter currently associated with the Geo Television Network.
Saeed is young and curious, and recently learned that there is usually a cost associated with asking pointed questions to government bigwigs in the country. Saeed had earlier this month asked Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah about the poor infrastructure of Karachi, reminding the CM that his party had been in power for twelve long years.
Shah dismissed the question rudely, sparking an outcry on social media. For Saeed, who is still learning the tricks of his trade, the disappointment of being rebuffed by the CM was nothing compared to the silence of his colleagues on the matter, who did not raise their voice against Shah for his rude remarks to the young reporter.
Although PPP chief Bilawal, who styles himself a champion of media freedom, should have inquired into the matter and sought an explanation from Shah for his less-than-becoming attitude as a public representative, there has been complete silence on the matter from his party.
The sum of the whole argument is that journalists across the gender divide are facing the worst kind of abuse on the internet at the hands of people in power and their social media teams. It would not be wise to assume that only female media persons are the target of online harassment. Male journalists also face the same problem in their daily routines. Men and women need to come together to fight this scrouge.
The author is the former Senior Executive Producer Programming Geo News, with a core interest in politics, media, and human rights issues. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.