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01 July 2021

Guide For Journalists Dealing With Online Abuse Launched

A new guide providing practical information to journalists on how to deal with online abuse has been published as part of the ongoing action plan for the safety of journalists.

The guide 'Combatting Online Harassment and Abuse: a Legal Guide for Journalists in England and Wales' was commissioned by the Media Lawyers Association and DCMS as part of the National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists launched in March 2021. 

News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith sits on the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists which earlier this year produced the plan.

A key objective of the guide, which was launched at an event hosted by ITN, is to support journalists and help their employers build resources to protect personal safety of journalists.

The guide, written by Beth Grossman and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, highlights how to use the law to prevent online abuse and provides practical guidance to journalists experiencing abuse.

As well as setting out international and industry standards to combat abuse, the guide focuses on the impact online abuse can have on individual journalists, the implications for freedom of speech caused by self-censorship, measures to prevent journalists leaving the profession, and the issue of online abuse turning into physical harassment.

The guide details tools and techniques journalists and employers can use, including keeping detailed evidence logs, sharing information with relevant safety personnel, taking steps to minimise exposure to abusive content, and evaluating whether to engage with abuse or not, as well as information on how to make complaints and take legal action.

John Battle, ITN head of legal and compliance, said: “Journalists should not have to go about their vital daily work in fear or under duress because of online abuse. Social media platforms and online tools are essential tools for their work. This guide aims to help journalists know what to do if they face harassment or abuse. This is a growing problem, and my hope is the guide leads to greater protection for journalists.”

Media Minister John Whittingdale said: "Too often journalists have faced abuse as they go about their work and sadly, as we’ve heard again today, it is still all too common. That is why the Government set up the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists which earlier this year produced a National Action Plan.

"This guidance which will help journalists to understand better how the law can safeguard them from threats is one important element of that plan. Facebook and Twitter have committed to respond promptly to complaints of threats to journalists and we are also introducing a new Online Safety Bill to tackle online abuse and to hold the platforms to account."