On March 14, 2023, Asha Allen, CDT’s Advocacy Director for Europe, Online Expression & Civic Space joined the third session of the OSCE’s Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Media Freedom as a Central Pillar of Comprehensive Security in Vienna, Austria.
The OSCE’s Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings provide a platform for an exchange of views among OSCE participating States, OSCE institutions and other executive structures and international organizations, civil society and other stakeholders to discuss implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments within selected topics.
The third and final working session aimed to discuss the interlinkage between democracy and media freedom, and the need to ensure the safety of journalists as a precondition for safeguarding democracy.
Allen spoke about the role of media in achieving gender justice and challenges faced by women in the media field. Her full speech is available below.
Thank you to the OSCE Chairpersonship of North Macedonia, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for the invitation to speak with you today. Thanks also to my esteemed colleagues and the representatives for their participation in today’s discussion. My name is Asha Allen and I am the Advocacy Director for Europe, Online Expression and Civic Space at the Centre for Democracy and Technology Europe Office. We are a not-for-profit organisation that advocates for the promotion and protection of democracy and human rights in European tech law and policy. We work to increase equality, amplify voices, and promote human rights in European level law and policy debates. We champion policies, laws, and technical designs that protect against invasive, discriminatory, and exploitative uses of new technologies.
It is my honour to exchange with you today on this important issue of media freedom and more specifically the role of the media in achieving gender justice. Media freedom and pluralism is a precondition of stable democracy and democracies only thrive with the safe and equitable participation of all; indeed the OSCE recognises the need to protect and bolster women’s participation in public and political life as one of its key gender equality priorities.
Independent media has been an essential element of the progress that has been made towards gender equity thus far. However, we can all recognise that the media environment has undergone a paradigm shift, with the vast majority of journalists conducting their vital work in the digital sphere. However within this context we are seeing challenges for women journalists in particular to safely conduct their work which has been essential to raising awareness on not only some of the most egregious examples of continued gender inequity such as sexual harassment, but some of the most significant issues of recent years related to challenges to democracy in the digital age more broadly, such as the incredible work of the women journalists who led the investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
This latter example allows me to raise one of the most prominent challenges that women in the field of media face. As has been well documented through research, including initiatives of the OSCE, the digital sphere is much less safe for women, especially for women from historically marginalised groups such as women of colour. Online gender-based violence and the gendered impact of disinformation and misinformation is not only a clear example of the challenges women journalists face, but it is also an indicator of the broader hurdles for media freedom and pluralism. This issue of safety for women journalists is inextricably linked with the challenges of disinformation and diminished trust.
Gendered disinformation flows from the same patriarchal context in which people experience online GBV and is designed to make use of these existing gender narratives, language, and ultimately discrimination to achieve certain social and political goals, including maintaining the status quo of gender inequality or creating a more polarised electorate. More specifically, gendered disinformation campaigns aim to undermine women political leaders, including journalists, by spreading false information about their qualifications, experience, and intelligence, sometimes using sexualized imagery as part of their tactics. This problem is inextricably worse when viewed through an intersectional lens; the abuse faced by politically engaged women including journalists is worse when you consider a woman’s race, age or sexual orientation; black women are 34% more likely to receive abusive tweets than white women.
These experiences undermine women’s ability to safely conduct their vital work as civic space actors and agents of democratic oversight. The International Centre for Journalists and UNESCO have published reports on the severity of the violence women journalists face; 73% of the women journalists report having faced online violence while doing their job. These trends are exacerbating gender disparities in European Journalism with only 23% of stories written by women and nearly double that written by male counterparts. This is also having a generational impact. Plan International, the largest girls rights organisation in the world reported in their 2021 study which surveyed 26 thousand girls worldwide, that 1 in 5 report that mis- and – disinformation is preventing them from engaging in politics or current affairs.
The reality is quite simply this. The current experience of women journalists and the impacts of such is diametrically opposed to the very concept of media pluralism, as these issues that I have outlined prevent women from being able to contribute as part of the plurality of voices, opinions and analyses that are essential to make up a diverse media ecosystem. Disinformation that targets specific groups of people undermines democracy for all, and limiting our analysis and measures to address disinformation to the population at large may in turn undermine our ability to effectively counter the harm that disinformation campaigns and online gender based violence are causing to media pluralism and advancing gender equality. Therefore, I would like to recommend to the distinguished representatives here today the following measures in order to tackle these significant hurdles to true, equitable media freedom and gender equality.
Firstly, in order to fully understand the phenomena more research is needed on these problems. Though I have referenced several studies today, there is not enough data on the issue of Online gender-based violence and disinformation targeted at journalists at member state level or regionally, the latter of which will be significant in identifying widespread trends. Member States must support the development of more research into issues such as gendered disinformation, the online safety of women journalists and societal challenges to media freedom. More specifically, ensure that this research is guided by the question on what the impact of gendered disinformation is on women, transgender, and non-binary individual’s free expression, on media plurality and on the realisation of the OSCE’s key areas of focus, namely, to promote non-discriminatory laws and policies and increase women’s participation in politics and the electoral processes.
Alongside this, OSCE participating states should bolster their positive obligation to promote a safe and diverse communications environment by outlining measurable objectives in addressing challenges to the safety of women journalists online. This can include providing awareness raising and educational training, for example within media organisations, that foster a deeper understanding of gendered disinformation, with the participation of civil society.
Lastly, there should be a clear adoption of a qualitative and quantitative intersectional methodology in the development of policies related to strengthening media freedom at national level. Concretely, this means undertaking ex ante and ex post impact assessments of proposed policies and ensuring that these include specific data collection targets focused on impacts on marginalised groups. We are here today in the city of Vienna which provides a strong example, as the requirement to gender mainstream the city’s budget is firmly established within its constitution. Cyclical gender impact assessments ensure the allocation of resources best help society more effectively; this methodology can be applied to other policy areas including those aimed at strengthening media freedom.
To conclude, ensuring true media pluralism in the digital age is an essential component to advancing gender equity and parity. With challenges increasing globally, it is important now more than ever to strengthen all mechanisms that contribute to thriving and diverse democracies that encourage the safe and fair participation of all, especially those of who have, and continue to be marginalised within society.