On 23 November, the Wits Centre for Journalism hosted the webinar launch of an important new book titled Women journalists in South Africa: Democracy in the Age of Social Media, co-edited by Prof Glenda Daniels, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Wits University, and Dr Kate Skinner, Executive Director of the Association of Independent Publishers.  

The book examines the experiences of women journalists in democratic South Africa and the powerful contributions they’ve made to the profession, despite a continuous surge of online abuse and harassment received from populist and corrupt politicians and their supporters. Daniels and Skinner were joined by Nomshado Lubisi-Nkosinkulu, head of communications at Media Monitoring Africa, and Qaanitah Hunter, assistant editor (politics and opinions) at News24, who both contributed chapters of their own reflections and insights.  

The webinar was chaired by Dr Nechama Brodie, lecturer at the Wits Centre for Journalism and acting director of the Wits Justice Project. 

“One of the purposes of books like these is to celebrate powerful female academics, journalists and editors who are making important contributions to the journalism and media landscape in South Africa, and I feel like we don’t sing those praises enough,” said Brodie. 

Trends in harassment against women journalists are spreading much faster globally than in the past – targeted strategies of abuse that crop up in one country are almost instantaneously copied somewhere else in the world in an attempt to discredit and belittle their work. Online attacks against women journalists often have political motives, as seen in the recent abuse endured by journalist Karyn Maughan at the hands of former president Jacob Zuma and his supporters. Political actors, extremist networks, and partisan media are identified as instigators and amplifiers of online violence against women journalists.

“This book crosses between advocacy and academia, and is therefore a work of love,” said Daniels. “Women are always the last paragraph or a chapter in a book, so we thought why not make this issue the whole book about what journalists are going through. The book is also important in terms of spreading awareness,” said Daniels. 

Added Skinner: “The issue of harassment is a critical issue globally. Women have made such incredible gains, and from that they come under serious attack. What’s exciting about the book is that it looks at a number of other issues that intersect with the [common theme of harassment against women journalists], such as issues around the gender pay gap, the lack of [women] voices in the media, and so on.”       

Daniels asserted that the conclusions reached in the book are optimistic. 

“We have a robust activist culture, and a lot of civil society organisations are active within the media (I’ve counted 21). We must support campaigns, we must have contact people in newsrooms that provide support to journalists who are victims of cyber misogyny. A few newsrooms have this in place already. We need to get buy-in from big tech [like Twitter and Facebook] so that we can actually catch and punish trolls, and we need to keep applying pressure to see that happens.”   

Watch the full webinar below: