Lack of law leaves women journalists vulnerable to online violence

Published On: December 1, 2022 08:30 AM NPT By: Sajira Shrestha

KATHMANDU, Dec 1: With the increasing trend of digitalization across the country, problems such as online violence are on the rise. It has become easy for people with ill intentions to post rude comments or send unwanted messages to victimize people, especially women. The case in Nepal is still worse as there are no relevant laws in place to tackle online violence.

A study entitled ‘Online Violence against Women Journalists’ carried out by Media Advocacy Group (MAG) with the support of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung-Nepal, has revealed that 88.6 percent of women journalists that took part in the survey reported that they have been subjected to online violence. Similarly, 11.4 percent of the women journalists who participated in the survey said they have heard about online violence but not experienced it directly. 

This reflects that online violence exists in all professions and fields as even empowered women journalists, who work to expose the wrongdoings of those in power, are equally vulnerable to online violence.

MAG had carried out the survey from May 1, 2022 to August 31, 2022. Only 281 of the total 500 women journalists reached out for the survey had responded to the questionnaire. According to the study, 53 percent of the respondents said that the online violence they had witnessed was associated with their profession of journalism. Similarly, 21.4 percent of the respondents said that the violence that started online later developed into threats and physical attacks.

While sharing the findings of the research at a program organized in Lalitpur on Wednesday, senior journalist and co-researcher Babita Basnet said that there is no law in place to deal with online violence in Nepal. “As there are no proper laws against online violence in Nepal, authorities do not even conduct proper investigation even as complaints are filed at the Cyber Bureau of Nepal Police,” she said. “In our country, there is no authorized office of Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and other social media. This has also caused difficulty in conducting proper investigation into the cases related to online violence.”

According to the research, Facebook Messenger is the main platform used to unleash online violence. While 62.3 percent of the respondents said they are subjected to online violence through Facebook Messenger, 15.3 percent others blamed Twitter, 12.8 percent Whatsapp, 11.7 percent viber, 6 percent email and 4.6 percent Instagram as the platforms through which they are subjected to online violence. 

President of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Bipul Pokharel said that it is ironic to see how people who are working to transform society are themselves subjected to such violence. “Online violence has become a big issue even as we are just in the beginning phase of digitization. We cannot even imagine how problematic it can become once we live in a completely digitized world,” he said. 

Pokharel argued that discussions should be held from organizational level to national level to effectively tackle this problem. “Also, there should be easy mechanisms to report online violence according to the prevailing laws,” he said.

The report states that 62.3 percent of the respondents answered that online violence had an impact on their mental health. A total of 43.4 percent of those who said that their mental health had been affected by online violence reported that they were afraid to meet or talk to new people. 

Similarly, 14.3 percent responded that they wanted to quit journalism due to online violence and 21.1 percent others said they were afraid to talk to news sources because of the same reason. Likewise, 28.6 percent responded that they could not concentrate on work as a result of online violence while 6.3 percent said that they experienced all kinds of problems.

The report recommends that policy reforms and clear legal arrangements are required to deal with online violence. As the nature of online violence varies, addressing the complexities of online violence must be explicitly mentioned in the laws and policies. “For the purpose of inquiry, police complaints against online aggression should be heard quickly in an effective and efficient manner. The atmosphere where the victim feels that justice is delayed or that his or her case or complaint is not heard must be ended,” states the report.

Secretary at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Dr Baikuntha Aryal said that it is alarming to see that 73 percent of women journalists have faced online violence through their colleagues from within and outside their office (41.3 percent colleagues from office, 31.7 percent fellow workers outside office). “Secondly, female journalists are facing online violence from government officials as well. Despite the data showing that just 9.3 percent of respondents had faced online violence through government officials, this is an even bigger and more serious issue.”

Dr Aryal assured that to tackle with the issue related to online violence, the government is working to bring immediate as well as long term measures. According to him, Mobile Device Management System was brought into action as one of the solution to minimize online violence as with this, it is easier to trace mobile numbers and people cannot use other people mobile numbers to open any apps. “It is easier to get required data from mobile numbers as we can contact NTC and Ncell office. However, it is not same when it comes to social media as there is no office of Facebook, Twitter and other social media in Nepal. Therefore, we are also currently holding discussions with Facebook and Whatsapp regarding establishing a contact point in Nepal.”


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