The dangers associated with a career in journalism tend to be overlooked. While the United States Constitution allows for the freedoms of both speech and press, reporters working in other countries are often not afforded the same protection.
The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) annual report states that in 2017, 42 journalists were killed for reasons pertaining to their work and a record high of 262 journalists have been incarcerated for their reporting. Fortunately, the number of deaths has decreased since 2016, where there were 48 cases in which the motives for killing are confirmed. Unfortunately, the percentage of female journalists killed (historically averaged at 7 percent) was recorded at 19 percent, the highest it has ever been.
Investigative reporter and director of the Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege program, Lauren Wolfe, attributes part of the rise to a combination of the increased number of women covering controversial stories in dangerous regions and the lack of protection in those regions.
In one tragic incident of the death of a reporter, Kim Wall, a 30-year-old Swedish reporter, boarded a submarine in Denmark on August 10th, 2017, to interview the submarine’s inventor, Peter Madson. The submarine sank, and Madson, who was rescued unharmed and alone, claimed that he had dropped Wall off on an island. His story changed on August 21st when he confirmed that Wall had been killed accidentally onboard the submarine and that he had buried her body on the island. Two days later, a weighted bag containing Wall’s severed torso surfaced off the coast of Copenhagen.
Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, expressed to The Intercept that the CPJ documentation does not supply an accurate representation of the extent of violence against female reporters.
“It doesn’t paint the full picture when you’re only monitoring murders and imprisonment and legal action, because the kinds of threats that women face are equally insidious and equally threatening to press freedom,” Muñoz said.
In most industries, women’s employment rates have been consistently on an upward trend since the 1970s; however, there is a prominent imbalance in the media industry and the employment rate is flatlining. According to yearly observations, women amount to over two-thirds of the total number of graduates who receive a degree from journalism and/or mass communications programs. Despite this, women only constitute for one-third of the industry.
The discrepancy, which has been prevalent since the 1980s, is largely due to the lack of respect and the differentiated treatment that female reporters are forced to endure.
“What I’ve been thinking about most is that women are so often passed over for assignments that are considered stereotypically ‘dangerous’ — perhaps most notably front-line conflict, but plenty of other situations as well. And the sad truth is that it’s all irrelevant, because women are at risk (almost always from men) wherever they go,” photojournalist Daniella Zalcman told the New York Times.
Regardless of gender, reporters are subject to violence. Dangerous assignments have resulted in a considerable death toll and violence rate throughout history. However, there is a notable difference that can be attributed to the industry’s systemic sexism and gender-based assumptions when it comes to society’s treatment of reporters who have survived trauma.
“We’ve seen men who have been imprisoned go back on the job, we’ve seen men who had been kidnapped get hostile environment jobs. It doesn’t seem to impair their ability to report back at these environments, whereas women are automatically treated as having been damaged in some way and in need of protection,” Muñoz stated.
Muñoz and Wolfe both suggest that the solution to the rising violence against female reporters is to hire more women for positions of leadership within the media industry.
Christina Asquith, award-winning journalist and founder of the Fuller Project for International Reporting, published a critical analysis regarding the current state of gender bias in the industry to The Atlantic in which she states, “Repeatedly awarding men’s reporting over women’s feeds a cycle that perpetuates the relative authority of men’s voices over women’s.” She argues that offering more opportunities to women could expand and the lens in which the world is portrayed by the media.
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