In My Opinion: Paul Holleran: The growing problem of cyberbullying

CYBERBULLYING is a growing problem for journalists, worldwide.

I have dealt with far too many cases in Scotland alone where our members and their families have been threatened with violence, or worse.

So it comes as no surprise whatsoever that a recent study by UNESCO revealed that online harassment of journalists, including threats of violence, has had a “serious psychological impact that could result in self-censorship”.

The report, Building Digital Safety for Journalism, reported by the International Press Institute, highlighted major challenges to journalists worldwide, which included smear campaigns on social media, usually involving trolls, with the aim of damaging credibility and intimidating sources, online threats of violence, and online sexual harassment.

Cyberbullying the media is a major health and safety concern and it is vital that we work with major agencies to address the growing problem.

Adequate support mechanisms for members under attack are paramount, provided by employers and the NUJ as a trade union.

As the UNESCO report found, freedom of expression must be protected at all costs.

While journalists tend to have a thick skin when it comes to criticism, the type of cyberbullying many journalists are up against nowadays is much more than healthy criticism.

No journalist should be on the receiving end of a threat of violence or worse against themselves or people close to them, just because of what they reported.

I would be the last to argue against freedom of expression but I am 100 per cent against my members being bullied to the extent that they hesitate before covering a particular story, they feel unsafe in their own home, are fearful for their safety and are seriously concerned for the safety of members of their families.

And all because of their work as a journalist.

That is why the NUJ in Scotland – in conjunction with the University of Strathclyde – is conducting a pilot study into the scale of the problem of Cyberbullying the Media with a view to carrying out further research.

The NUJ’s Health and Safety Committee is also backing it and will roll it out across the union and take the campaign on to a wider stage.

The aim of the survey – found here – is to gain an indication of the scale of the problem of Cyberbullying the Media, the impact on our members, the need for support mechanisms for journalists affected and their effectiveness where they are already in place.

We have already encountered cases in Scotland where our members have been subjected to sustained online abuse as a result of stories they have been working on as a journalist and the police have become involved.

A number of cases of online abuse have resulted in prosecution.

Cases relating to coverage of the forthcoming General Election have also arisen where the reporter has been subjected to online attacks because of what was reported.

Coverage of the Scottish independence referendum, reporting of the many stages in the Rangers saga and coverage of football, including both sides of the ‘Old Firm’ and many other teams/clubs, have led to journalists being bullied online.

These are recent examples.

I have helped members who have suffered abuse of a political, sexist, racist, religious and sexist nature and threats of violence have been made against them and their families.

It is little wonder the UNESCO report found online abuse of journalists has had serious psychological impact.

If you have been bullied as a result of carrying out your professional duties as a journalist, please complete the surveymonkey questionnaire on an anonymous basis.

If you would like to discuss your experiences in confidence, contact me at NUJ Scotland on 0141 248 6648, 07850 085731 or email

Paul Holleran is Scotland organiser at the National Union of Journalists.