The Editors Guild of India condemns the continuing online harassment of women journalists, which includes targeted and organised online trolling as well as threats of sexual abuse. What is further disturbing is that most of these attacks are targeted at journalists who have been outspokenly critical of the current government and the ruling party, in an effort to silence them under the intimidation of such attacks. This is a travesty of all democratic norms, and in violation of law.
The latest instances of such organised trolling and harassment are revealed by the investigations done by The Wire, which laid bare an extensive and well funded network built around an app, Tek Fog, which steals unused WhatsApp accounts to send out toxic messages to targeted journalists. The purpose of these deeply hurtful messages was to instil fear in them and to prevent them from expressing themselves freely and go about their jobs. According to the reports, several women journalists were subjected to thousands of abusive tweets.
There were also the recent instances of online auction of Muslim women by at least two open source apps on the GitHub platform, which included journalists critical of the government. Though law enforcement agencies have arrested those supposedly behind such apps, there is need for further investigation in order to ensure that all those behind such despicable acts, even beyond those arrested, are brought to justice.
Editors Guild demands that the government takes urgent steps to break and dismantle this misogynistic and abusive digital eco-system, and that thorough investigations are carried out to identify and punish the culprits and entities behind it. Further, given the allegations that there may be the involvement of influential people linked to the ruling party with the app Tek Fog, the Guild demands that the Supreme Court of India takes cognisance of the matter and order a probe into it.
Seema Mustafa, President
Sanjay Kapoor, General Secretary
Anant Nath, Treasurer
January 11th, 2022
Our view on the EGI statement
Indian women journalists have been amongst the earliest and most perceptive critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its incipient fascism and violence against minorities and women. It’s another matter that the Indian media is mostly managed by men who are are easily seduced by money and power and have too often been unable to defend and support women journalists. And, who they too often see as competition.
On the other hand, it is also the media that has not been able to suppress the insights, perceptions, and plain hard fact political reporting of women journalists. This despite many incidents of craven editors backing down at the mere phone call from a prime minister and ministers who dabble in deceit and the flouting of democratic election and constitutional norms.
The TekFog investigation by The Wire is conducted with diligence and structure. Any democratic country’s legal system, including its police and courts, would have taken notice and exception to the abuse used by the ruling party to amplify its hatred and divisive politics. It behooves the Indian courts to act on their own words, including the continuous imprisonment of journalists at the behest of vicious regimes and apparatus.
The systematic abuse of women journalists by manipulating social media is only one sign of authoritarian power in the hands of those who fear citizens who speak out. The outlets of abuse against women journalists are the ancillary channels of the ruling politicians – misogynists who cannot tolerate women who are more intelligent and articulate than themselves. Let alone those women who express themselves with the written and spoken word and accompanying images of the true state of Indian society.