DPDC Practical Guide Series| Protection of Women Journalists from Online Harassment
Threats to journalists’ wellbeing may take various forms; the most recent of which is online abuse and harassment. Online harassment ranges from unsolicited sexual advances to threats of violence or rape, communicated over a digital medium. In a world with increased digital news access, as well as an increased dependence on handheld internet enabled devices, journalists do not have an opt-out mechanism from such online abuse and harassment.
While this problem is common across the board for journalists, the recent examples of harassment and violence such as the brutal murder of Gauri Lankesh and the continued harassment of journalists such as Rana Ayyub indicate a worrisome trend of how such harassment is a gendered issue. While male journalists face online harassment and abuse for endorsing differing viewpoints or their quality of journalism, criticism against women and sexual minorities is often targeted towards their gender, appearance, religion etc. rather than the quality of their work.
While we discuss protection of women journalists, it is important to recognize that all gender and sexual minorities need to be protected on the internet. Unfortunately, Indian Law makes limited provisions to include most gender and sexual minorities. In this guide, the term ‘woman’ largely refers to cisgender women, because the law fails to extend its protection to gender and sexual minorities beyond them. Acknowledging this shortcoming, in the future, we will publish another practical guide that more comprehensively outlines remedies available to gender and sexual minorities.
DOES INDIAN LAW OFFER PROTECTION TO WOMEN JOURNALISTS
Presently, there is no specific provision in Indian Law that deals with online harassment of women journalists. Accordingly, law enforcement officials rely on the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Information Technology Act (IT Act) to deal with instances of online harassment and abuse.
Provisions under the Technology Act
The IT Act and IPC provide punishments for certain offences that are more regularly committed against women. Under the IT Act, any individual who captures, publishes, or transfers the image of a private area of any person, violating the privacy of that person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years imprisonment and a fine not exceeding Rs 2 lakh [Section 66E]. Further, any individual who publishes or transmits sexually explicit content shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years and a fine which may extend up to Rs. 10 lakhs for the first offence, and imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 7 years and a fine which may extend up to Rs. 10 lakhs for every subsequent offence [Section 67A].
The provisions of the IT Act offer protection to women against violation of their privacy, and dissemination of explicit content. This becomes particularly important taking into consideration the recent example of deepfake technology being used to create fake pornographic content with women journalists as the subject.
Provisions under the IPC
Under the IPC, any man making sexually coloured remarks shall be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment punishable with imprisonment for up to 1 year, or with fine, or with both [Section 354A(3)]. Further, any man who watches or captures images of women engaging in a private act where they would not ordinarily have the expectation of being observed or recorded or disseminates such image shall be guilty of the offence of voyeurism punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 3 years and may extend up to 7 years with a fine [Section 354C].
Women journalists have routinely faced the threat of online stalking. Any man who monitors the internet use of a woman or repeatedly attempts to contact her for personal interaction despite a clear indication of disinterest shall be guilty of the offence of stalking, punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 3 years and with a fine [Section 354D]. The IPC also punishes any individual who has conveyed incorrect information re any person to any third party which brings the reputation of the person into disrepute in the eyes of said third party [Section 499]. Another issue regularly faced by journalists, are threats of injury, rape or death. The IPC provides for imprisonment for upto 7 years with fine against any individual who threatens any person with injury to his person, property, or reputation, to cause alarm, or to cause that person to do any act which they are not legally bound to do [Section 506]. The IPC further provides added protection to women journalists by penalising any attempts to insult their modesty, including online activity [Section 509].
WHAT CAN I DO IF I FACE ONLINE HARASSMENT?
There are four avenues for women journalists to avail remedies against online abuse and harassment in India:
- Filing an online complaint-The National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal has been formed by the government to assist victims of cybercrime specifically for the protection of women and children. The portal allows for the complainant to remain anonymous if they choose to do so. The portal is accessible at Cyber Crime Portal. Once the complaint has been filed, the relevant state police authority shall investigate the offence.
- Filing a First Information Report - You may opt to file an F.I.R. with the police station in your jurisdiction under any of the above mentioned provisions of the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code.
- National Commission for Women- Any instance of deprivation of women’s rights or harassment of women may be reported to the National Commission for Women (NCW). The NCW assists the complainant by ensuring that investigations by the police are expedited and monitored. The NCW may forward the complaint to the relevant State Commissions for Women, National Human Rights Commission etc. as requisite.
This Guide was prepared with assistance from Bharucha and Partners. This blogpost or any other blogpost published as a part of this practical guide series does not constitute legal advice.