Laws Protecting Online Harassment of Journalists

Author: - Harshita Jaiswal

3rd Year BBA LL.B
University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun




Assaults against journalists appear to be on the rise, recently, in nations around the globe. These incorporations are allegedly directed by governments or politicians, just as by the people disappointed with their media coverage or generally with the press. The broad utilization of social media has encouraged harassment of writers in online settings by a variety of means, including by diffusing threats and disinformation, stalking, and broadcasting private or personally identifiable data about focused journalists. While a noteworthy number of writers have supposedly confronted online harassment including female journalists are being disproportionately affected.

The Press Freedom Index[1] annually released by Reporters without Borders, in 2019 positioned India at 140th spot out of 180 nations. And now the 2020 list positions India at 142nd position. This shows the positioning of India from several nations viewed as protected, where journalists can work in complete security, keeps on declining, while authoritarian regimes keep on fixing their hold on the media.




To present India’s legal structure, we will begin from the Constitution to more explicit guidelines throughout the twentieth century (laws, Acts, revisions, and so forth.). One article which awards citizens “the right to speak freely and express themselves[2] .” If news sources are not unequivocally alluded to, researchers and experts concurred on accepting this value as a common ground for journalists and media specialists to communicate freely. Depending on this legal right, most Indian legislative institutions claim to be profoundly dedicated to the opportunity of expressing themselves in a wider sense.

The Press Council, a statutory body initially made to give effect to democracy and freedom of speech in India, passed The Press Council Act in 1978 to build a decent connection between the legislature and the press. Equally, a subsequent condition to article 19(1) of the Constitution, appropriately 19(2) tries to direct opportunity with “reasonable limitations in light of sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, public order, goodness and ethical quality”  Also when the government seems that excess in freedom of speech, if clashes with the limitations prescribed under Article 19(2), it is criminalised.

Worth referencing are also sections 499, 500, 501 and 502 of the India Penal Code, 1860 which endorses a two-year prison term for anybody found guilty of defamation “through content, speech, or visuals.” Also, Section 66 of the Indian Information Technology Act (Ministry of Law and Justice, 2009) includes social media in the act of defamation and attracts the jail term of three years. But the most celebrated model about the limiting excessive speech is under the Sedition Law, unexpectedly presented by the British in 1870.
Maharashtra is the principal state to pass a bill Maharashtra Media individual and Media Institutions. ((Prevention of violence and damage or loss to property) Bill,2017[3], one of the primary laws in the nation which guarantees protection for journalists. The Bill was passed by Devendra Fadnavis Government and suggests imprisonment up to 3 years and fine up to Rupees Fifty Thousand (Rs. 50,000/-) or both in the event of an assault on media personnel.
The law alerts on the recording of bogus complaints by a media person for which he/she can be given a comparative punishment. Chhattisgarh and Bihar, where a few media people have gone under assault before, are likewise considering a comparable enactment for the security of journalists. According to the Maharashtra enactment, the guilty party will be at risk to pay remuneration for harm or loss caused to the property of the media person as dictated by the Court.

A worldwide report led by the International Federation of Journalists[4] found that 64% of them had encountered online maltreatment. Online brutality, physical viciousness in the field, and inappropriate behaviour at the work environment all join to make journalism a risky workplace, especially for women. One can barely overlook the instance of Gauri Lankesh, a journalist known for standing up strongly against the foundation, was killed in her home in Bengaluru barely two years ago, in the wake of getting death threats on the web.




Perceiving these concerns in 2017, the United Nations General Assembly gave a goal on the security of journalists and the issue of impunity against violence and harassment of journalists particularly female both online and offline. The General Assembly was called on States to make and maintain a law which provides a safe environment to journalists to work independently without any undue influence. With the increased harassment of female journalists, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched the Byteback Campaign[5] in 2017 to fight against the cyberbullying

The UN Human Rights Council Resolution L.13[6] on the advancement, insurance and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, which certifies that “similar rights that individuals have offline should also be secured on the web. So also, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media[7] gave proposals in the year 2015, expressing that “online maltreatment must be managed more extensively against gender discrimination to guarantee that similar rights that individuals have offline must be secured online as well.”

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is additionally explained by the UN Human Rights Committee in General Comment 34[8], clarifies that freedom of expression is a key right that must be confined under a restricted situation. Journalists have a unique role to carry out in this law based procedure.

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women characterizes victimization ladies and sets up a plan for a national activity to end it. The CEDAW Committee, which administers States’ consistency with the Convention, expressed in  General Recommendation 35[9], “that sex-based discrimination incorporates acts that cause physical, mental or sexual damage or suffering, dangers of such acts, coercion and other hardships of freedom.” Online provocation of women journalists falls within the definition.

This is the place where the essence lies: the harassment of women journalists online frustrates the free press from working as it should, which adversely affects Equality. Council of Europe Recommendation[10] The Committee of Ministers on the protection & security of journalism and other media entertainers summarizes this: “[acts of online provocation of Women journalists] which by and by are submitted by both State and non-State entertainers, have a grave chilling impact on the opportunity of expression.

While signing the above international treaties on human rights, a State has to abide by its obligations and guidelines and must protect its people and to put in place such a domestic legal system which has the capabilities of defending the threats and punishing the perpetrators. CEDAW General Recommendation 35 stipulates that “States parties have to adopt and implement diverse measures to tackle gender-based violence against women committed by non-State actors. They are required to have laws, institutions and a system in place to address such violence.”




The media is the fourth pillar of Indian democracy, including the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Media plays an imperative role in Indian democracy. We, as a whole, realize that man is a social creature and it is characteristic of the human instinct to associate with individuals, to exchange thoughts, to be educated about changes in the society, without such communication society cannot work altogether. And here media act as an eye for the people of a democratic nation

The risk factor in the profession of journalism is quickly expanding. They face brutality and intimidation for practising their key rights. Some of the threats they receive incorporate abducting, murder, online harassment, forced confinement and torture. As they are working for the benefit of the society, subsequently, they should be ensured against such crimes as one can not imagine a significant popular government without the Media.

Progressively writers, particularly ladies columnists are confronting on the web provocation, abuse, misuse, trolling, public shaming and bullying over the net. There is a requirement for successful laws for the security of media personnel and writers.

The efforts of the Maharashtra Government are valued and different States should likewise step up and make such laws which are in the interest of journalism.



[1] ‘Reporters without Borders’ ‘2019 World Freedom Press Index’

[2] Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India, 1949.

[3] ‘Maharashtra Media Persons and Media Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property) Act, 2017’

[4] ‘IFJ global survey shows massive impact of online abuse on women journalists’ ,2018

[5] ‘Byte Back: IFJ launches guide to combat cyber harassment in South Asia’, , 30 March 2017

[6] ‘Human Rights Document’, UN Human Rights Council Resolution L.13,

[7] OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media , 2015

[8] ‘UN Human Rights Committee’, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), General comment 34,

[9] CEDAW, ‘General recommendation 35’ , ‘Gender based violence against women’ , 2017

[10] Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)4 of the Committee of Ministers

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