‘You are still alive traitor? I wish you were in that helicopter we shot down! One more Armenian down. You deface our society!’ – Tweet addressed to journalist Arzu Geybulla.
Azerbaijani journalist and media trainer Arzu Geybulla has read hundreds harassing online comments in her career as a blogger, human rights activist and journalist. But when she received her first death threat and online commentators started to insult her family, she realized that posts in the internet can have a tremendous psychological impact on her as a young journalists. She believes a lot of comments were specifically harsh and sexually harassing since she is a woman.
‘They would never dare to write this to a man’, she says. When some insulters published a cartoon that showed her father who passed away, she knew she had to find mechanisms to deal with online hate speech.
This morning Arzu shared her experiences with other young female journalist at the second day of the Inclusive Media training. In the morning she joined a panel discussion with Jordan Times reporter Rana Husseini and Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten’s Silje Kampesaeter, and 20 participants. MENAC coordinator Pascale Müller moderated the panel questioning the relation between risk and gender in the field of journalism.
‘Being a female journalist automatically makes you an easy target for hate speech – The Internet makes it even harder’, Arzu told the audience. Norwegian journalist Silje Kampesaeter agreed with her, saying that it is difficult to let go virtual insult on one’s body and rape threats.
Asked about what young female journalists could do about harassing comments and threats Arzu explained how she has found a comfort in documenting every insult, taking screenshots, reporting them to her editors. Furthermore, she feels that giving training to other journalists and talking about it over and over again helps her deal with the anger.
‘No matter how much you talk about it, it’s still traumatic. But talking helps – It gives you coping mechanisms.’
Arzu also shared a bit of her own story during the panel and later in a workshop for the participants. Arzu got into journalism after blogging about corruption in her homeland Azerbaijan. She also explained her difficulties to separate activism and human rights work from her work as being a journalist.
Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini who has passionately worked reporting crime and honor killings in Jordan and across the Middle East said journalist must stay objective at any point, and report every word their sources tell them:
‘Keep a balance between among being an activist and a journalist, don’t let it influence your reporting, don’t take sides or you will lose your credibility’.
Writing about honor killings as well as other murder cases since 1994 made her understand that simple facts are enough to move her readers. Her advice for young journalists would be to always establish good contact and trust with their sources.
All three panelists as well as the participants agreed that the stories they report on are often hard to cope with emotionally. Silje Kampesaeter believes that finding another female journalist in Amman with whom she can share experiences and debrief each other is the best thing that has happened to her.
During her career as Middle East correspondent in Turkey and Jordan Silje has faced many situations in which she felt unsafe and questioning her gender role:
‘When I am on an assignment in Iraq, I feel like a man, I eat with the men, I smoke with the men, but still I am always alert as a women’
Her best advice for young journalists is to always do their research perfectly before they go into the field: Only rely on recommended drivers, fixers and translators, follow simple rules such as wearing appropriate shoes, keep money and credit cards on the body and be able to run at any point.
Moderator Pascale Müller agreed, insisting that especially female journalists should always have an exit strategy both financially and practically:
‘Make sure your credit card works, your phone is charged and there is a car that can take you away’
For Arzu having contact lists ready both with private as well as with international organizations such as Freelance Register is an important step avoid risks especially as a woman. During a workshop Arzu gave to the participants after the panel, she repeatedly encouraged the women to use international networks that have helped her a lot.
‘When I faced the death threats it was the international journalism networks and civil society organizations that brought attention to my case and helped me deal with it’
Participant Fanan A. from Jordan reported that she had a similar experienced when she managed a Facebook page in which girls shared pictures of harassers:
‘They threatened to kill me and rape me in the street, if I don’t stop publishing the pictures.’
Others agreed that Arzu’s experience and the way she managed to cope with emotions and stress was inspiring to them:
‘For a long time I thought that the craziness that is taking place in Egypt is just a local phenomenon – but you give me the feeling that this is global’ – Mai S. from Egypt
Tomorrow participants of the Inclusive Media training will have a skill-building workshop especially designed for female reporters lead by Syrian journalist Rula Asad.
The Inclusive Media training is supported by the German Foreign Ministry, the German Institute for Foreign Affairs (ifa), the International Women Media Foundation (IWMF), the European Youth Press and the Syrian Female Journalist Network (SFJN).