Stuff research finds two-thirds of Kiwi journalists face violence and threats

By Janine Fenwick


Christchurch, New Zealand


New Zealand journalists are increasingly facing violent threats and abusive messages simply for doing their job.

A UNESCO research project published in late 2021 looked into global trends in online violence against women journalists. It linked an increase in violence to the rise of disinformation, intersectional discrimination, and populist politics.

The research found 73% of the journalists had experienced online abuse, 25% experienced threats of physical violence, and 18% were threatened with sexual violence.

Stuff commissioned its own research on violence and abuse towards staff, partnering with Massey University on a robust and independent survey of our journalists to get insights into the local situation. We wanted a clear picture of the extent of the issues experienced by our staff.

Stuff is the largest media organisation in New Zealand, with 400 journalists across the country publishing more than 200 articles a day. It owns New Zealand’s No. 1 news site, a suite of magazines and newspapers, and an online community platform Neighbourly

The Massey survey was completed by 146 Stuff journalists in December 2021 — before New Zealand’s highly publicised anti-mandate protests began at Parliament. More than half of the respondents (60%) had worked in news for more than 10 years. Only 5% had worked less than two years. The gender balance was 57% female and 43% male.

Journalists increasingly face threats and violence while reporting on stories.
Journalists increasingly face threats and violence while reporting on stories.

Threats on the rise

The findings confirmed an alarming increase in violence and threats towards our journalists. Large numbers of our staff are subject to abuse, and on occasion, physical contact and attacks. Two-thirds (66%) have faced violence or threats of violence related to their job. Most were online, but almost half (48%) also experienced in-person threats by telephone or face-to-face. These included threats to their lives, family, or homes. 

The nature of the abuse was divided along gender lines, and many respondents took the time to share personal, difficult experiences and honest feedback. Women tended to get more genderised attacks, such as threats of rape, while men tended to experience more actual violence. In some cases, reporters have experienced physical violence during the news-gathering process, including pushing, shoving, and snatching of equipment.

More than 90% reported receiving abusive/toxic/uncomfortable online messages. Most of these messages are sent to their work email account. Thirty percent receive these weekly; another 11% receive them daily. About 40% received abusive messages aimed at their gender, and this included males too.

Actual physical violence was reported by 20% of the respondents, while about 40% had been victims of rumours, deep fakes, or attempts to discredit them.

About 75% of journalists now consider a toxic environment such as abuse or threats to be part of the job.
About 75% of journalists now consider a toxic environment such as abuse or threats to be part of the job.

Regrettably, 75% of journalists responded to say they considered it part of their job to have to tolerate toxic abuse or threats. A quarter said they self-censored when covering certain topics to avoid abuse, such as removing their names from their work, keeping their distance at an event, or avoiding writing opinion pieces known to draw toxic messages.

Changing the climate

Stuff is using these findings as an opportunity to raise awareness, take action and drive industry change. Our work is important to New Zealand, and it’s critical it can be done safely and without interference.

We have zero tolerance for abuse or violence against our journalists and we have several initiatives underway to better support, train, and safeguard our teams. We have also given Massey University permission to undertake the survey with other media outlets to help form a national picture.

Our actions include working with authorities regarding threats and attacks, as well as developing and undertaking critical trauma and safety training across the business. 

The World Press Freedom Index released in early May downgraded New Zealand’s ranking, partly because of the increasing online harassment and the violence and threats against journalists at COVID-19 restriction protests. New Zealand now ranks 11th out of 180 nations for media freedom.

About Janine Fenwick

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