Abuse towards journalists rises during pandemic
Reporters spat at, burnt out from negative stories, and chasing clickbait, amongst findings of industry survey.
Australian journalists are reporting an increase in harassment, threats and abuse in their pursuit of work, according to a new survey.
Respondents to a Medianet industry survey cited the mental impact of burnout from the constant news cycle, covering difficult news stories such as COVID deaths and public harassment and abuse of the media. Some journalists reported receiving severe threats and abuse from the public when covering issues related to COVID-19, on social media and also in-person.
“Australia is traditionally a safe place for journalists but now there are more and more incidents in which they are being attacked simply for doing their job largely due to the misinformation on social media platforms,” one respondent said.
Another noted, “I have noticed a huge mistrust in the media, especially among people my age . I think it really stemmed from Donald Trump’s ‘fake news’ campaign and has trickled down to Australia and the coverage of Covid. I have been yelled at and spat on while interviewing people on the streets as part of my job and I have had people in my close circle tell me they no longer want to associate with me because of my profession.”
Almost all respondents (94%) acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has in some ways impacted journalists’ abilities to work effectively in 2021.
Overall, female journalists reported more effects of the pandemic on work abilities than men, but male journalists felt more strongly impacted by restrictions on freedom of movement.
The impact of not being able to do in-person interviews during lockdowns, as well as being unable to travel and report from news events such as accidents, announcements, concerts, sporting events, exhibitions, conferences, etc. was also having an effect.
“I think the biggest impact has been on the mental health of journalists, with many facing a Groundhog Day scenario. Constantly reporting very negative stories,” said one.
Medianet Director of Media Intelligence Amrita Sidhu said, “Journalists reported being yelled at and spat on in the street and receiving death threats, as well as describing the impact of burnout from the constant news cycle and covering difficult and sad news stories.
“It’s important that we understand the barriers and difficulties journalists face so we can continue to support them to deliver the important information we rely on.”
But journalists were also asked if they had found themselves or their media organisation seeking more positive or “feel good” stories to provide a balance to the pandemic coverage.
Just over half of journalists (51%) responded that they had noticed this occurring.
This change was observed more frequently in the radio and television sectors than print, digital and podcasting.
“If the program or bulletin is stacked with depressing stories, we try to put something quirky or
funny in there to mix it up.”
But another noted, “Media should report news and facts, NOT act as manipulators of minds and feelings.”
62% of respondents said that they believe the content they produce is affected by the financial considerations of their media organisations.
Many journalists said that ratings and clicks are the most important consideration in all the content that they produce. Some stated that they must meet certain targets to maintain their job or receive financial reward.
“Most of my work is in TV so ratings dictate your budget for next season. If they fall, you could
lose your job,” one journalist advised.
40% of television journalists earn over $100,000 p.a. compared to around 20% of respondents working in radio, digital or print journalism, making television the highest paid sector.
30% of male journalists earn over $100,000 p.a., compared to just 16% of females and 12% of non-binary journalists. The most common pay category for journalists was between $60,000 and $79,999 p.a.
Television is the highest paid sector, with 40% of television journalists earning over $100,000 p.a. compared to around 20% of respondents working in radio, digital or print journalism.
983 journalists participated in the anonymous survey conducted between October and November 2021.