ABC and eSafety Commissioner release online safety guidelines for journalists

A ground-breaking collaboration between the ABC and Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has seen the release of best practice guidelines designed to help protect journalists and newsrooms from online abuse.

Launched on UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day today, the guidelines align with this year’s theme of Journalism under digital siege and spotlights the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally-mediated attacks on journalists, and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications.

The latest UNESCO World Trends Report Insights discussion paper Threats that Silence: Trends in the Safety of Journalists, highlights how surveillance and hacking are compromising journalism.

Surveillance can expose information gathered by journalists including from whistle-blowers, and violates the principle of source protection, which is universally considered a prerequisite for freedom of the media and is enshrined in UN Resolutions.

Surveillance may also harm the safety of journalists by disclosing sensitive private information, which could be used for arbitrary judicial harassment or attack.

The ABC resources include tips for media organisations in supporting staff to manage and mitigate the risk of social media abuse. They include some of the practical steps the ABC is taking to prepare for and respond to social media abuse and continue the ABC’s leadership in the space following last year’s CyberSafety summit.

The ABC’s Managing Director, David Anderson, says the online abuse of journalists was a trend connected to the rise of disinformation, conspiracy theories and extremism.

He says.“We have all felt and observed a rise in online hate and abuse directed at our media professionals, and we have seen the devastating cumulative impact of this daily bullying.

“The ABC has made a significant investment in the structures and policies and processes to support journalists and staff. But all journalists need to know they’re not alone and that there are resources they can use for their protection.”

He pointed out that the growing incidence of abuse of journalists online is not equally distributed. Female journalists, Indigenous journalists, LGBTQIA+ journalists and culturally and linguistically diverse journalists more likely to experience online abuse.

Research conducted by the eSafety Office, the world’s first government regulatory agency committed to keeping its citizens safer online, has found that women with a media presence were 56 per cent more likely to receive online abuse, and for those with a public profile the threat was even higher.

Through the nature of their work, journalists have become more accessible online, with 78 per cent of respondents believing that people think it’s ok to harass and abuse you if you have a public profile or are active online.

eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, says, “It has been so rewarding to work closely with the ABC on this important issue because we know more and more journalists, particularly female journalists and those from diverse backgrounds, are becoming the targets of abuse online as part of their daily work.

“And this abuse of women online has devastating consequences, not only for their mental health, but also for the promotion and protection of their important voices in shaping public discourse.” 

“This visible normalisation of targeted online harassment of female and diverse journalists has an incredibly powerful downstream impact on society.  In fact, our Women In the Spotlight (WITS) research report showed a quarter of Australian women were reluctant to move into public-facing roles because of the fear of being targeted in such a savage and visible way. 

“It is important to remember to #ReportandSupport, including reporting serious adult cyber abuse to eSafety at if the social media site refuses to comply.” 

The ABC has also recently become a signatory to the Brussels declaration, a new global initiative in support of media professionals’ safety.