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Poland: Gender and politics are key triggers for online abuse of journalists

A woman checks her phone on Flag Day in Warsaw, Poland, 2 May 2018
A woman checks her phone on Flag Day in Warsaw, Poland, 2 May 2018

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on on 1 October 2018.

The International Press Institute (IPI), a Vienna-based global press freedom organization, today launched a new report on online abuse against journalists in Poland, identifying domestic politics, refugees, Polish-Jewish history and gender issues as the topics most likely to attract threatening and hateful messages.

IPI conducted a fact-finding mission to Poland in June 2018 as part of its Ontheline project, which aims to explore and share best practices implemented by newsrooms in Europe to tackle online harassment against their journalists. The project also includes visits to Spain, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the UK.

See previous reports on online harassment of journalists in Spain and Finland.

In visits to newsrooms of various sizes in Warsaw, IPI found that while awareness of online harassment as a serious threat to press freedom is growing, community managers and moderators are frequently overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem and journalists are often forced to rely on informal networks of support. Still, several leading media, including prominent daily Gazeta Wyborcza, are increasingly experimenting with methods of shielding their reporters from abuse. Successful strategies carried out by Polish newsrooms will later be shared together with models from other European news outlets on a new Ontheline web resource platform.

As in other countries analyzed by IPI, female journalists in Poland face particularly vicious attacks. Female journalists who participated in an IPI focus group recounted receiving heinous death and rape threats, with one journalist - mistakenly identified by a reader as Jewish - being told she would leave Poland "through a chimney" in Auschwitz.

Journalists interviewed by IPI also described the toll that online harassment had taken on their work and broader lives. Many said they now chose to keep a lower profile online and some admitted to thinking twice about covering certain topics. One journalist described the experience of harassment as a “feeling of being punched in the stomach”.

Click here to read the full report.

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