The vicious media ‘boys club’ trying to shut women up is as prevalent in Britain as it is in France

As someone from a racial and religious minority who started my journalistic career in my home city of Paris and in London, I know exactly what complainants went through

In all cases – both in Britain and France – attacks went far beyond healthy opinion
In all cases – both in Britain and France – attacks went far beyond healthy opinion

Women hoping to make it in the media have always had a tough time. The industry is as macho as it is competitive, and professional rivalries frequently descend into bitterness and quarrels.

Such angst has reached boiling point in France, where prosecutors are examining a criminal complaint of sexist and racist harassment about a “boys club” that bullied female colleagues online.

Nominally liberal journalists were among those who created the “Ligue du LOL(League of Laugh Out Loud) and used it to torment those they considered unfit for their chosen careers.

Targets over a 10-year period ranged from TV presenters and feminists, to women from ethnic minorities who dared to discuss contentious issues.

They were subjected to horrifying abuse featuring pornography and rape references. All were directed through a closed Facebook group, or the preferred weapon of the unreconstructed troll – the anonymous Twitter account.

As someone from a racial and religious minority who started my journalistic career in my home city of Paris and in London, I know exactly what complainants went through.

More than that, I can confirm that this venomous culture continues to poison national debate in Britain, where vicious enemies regularly try to exclude people like me from having a say.

Disagreement and debate are absolutely essential in a democracy, but those who go for me because I am a Muslim woman go far beyond acceptable moral and legal boundaries.

An influential London-based editor I have never met was forced to apologise unreservedly and retract his words after posting horrific claims concerning my faith. He had ample form for defaming others linked to Islam.

The same unconditional apologies were issued by a similar white, male writer who lied so as to shovel me into an equally malevolent narrative for the cover story in a left-wing UK magazine.

Another prominent British columnist – who is commissioned by both right-wing and left-wing publications – encouraged student journalists to troll me with dishonest postings, before I contacted them personally to put them right about his fabrications.

Other deceitful Twitter messages about me were, astonishingly, under the name of a senior female member of staff at France’s embassy in London, who is tasked with liaising with journalists.

Against all the evidence, the alleged diplomat accused me of being a fake news peddler. The smears were solely aimed at me, and not the legions of middle-aged Caucasians who reported exactly the same facts as the ones I was being castigated for.

My letters of complaint are now being studiously ignored, with the obvious implication being that people like me are not worth bothering with.

In all cases – both in Britain and France – attacks went far beyond healthy opinion.

Dark-skinned commentators from modest backgrounds are barely heard of in establishment France, and those who do pop up are there to be shut down as soon as possible. Plenty of bigots wish the same for Britain.

Such examples are solely the non-anonymous ones. Those caught out soon move their malice to the shadows. Cowards who refuse to identify themselves abound on social media and comment threads. These BICs (brave-in-cyberspace), as I once dubbed them, are now bolstered by armies of bots and paid-for followers who can be mobilised to make even the most obscene views appear absurdly popular.

Little wonder that women often feel crushed by the continual struggle to be treated with respect. It is the same for others in public life, not least of all politicians.

In France, the journalist Melanie Wanga described herself as being “a young, black woman journalist” trying to raise serious issues such as apartheid in the face of constant harassment.

Victims came close to giving up journalism altogether. They were severely depressed and understandably so, as once friendly colleagues on liberal titles such as Libération attempted to destroy them.

The scandal has been described as France’s media #MeToo, in reference to the campaign that started outing sexual abuse carried out by powerful males.

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Vincent Glad, the founder of the Ligue du LOL, said he had “created a monster”, while another member said: “I saw that certain people were regularly targeted but I never guessed the depth of the trauma suffered.”

It all reminds me of the time I was invited on to a BBC TV politics programme to speak on a divisive issue involving Muslims from Paris. There were strong views on both sides, and both deserved to be heard. Instead, former Conservative minister Michael Portillo suggested my very presence was unwelcome and that I should “remain silent”.

Plenty of others have since said the same as Portillo – both to my face or, far more often, anonymously.

They are all part of a self-satisfied media clique who do not just want to win arguments against people from different backgrounds, but who actually want them to shut up completely.

The Ligue du LOL might have gone, with perpetrators facing court action, but its monstrous spirit remains as powerful as ever.

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