Visual Storytelling: the challenges faced by journalists working with images

Visual Storytelling: the challenges faced by journalists working with images

The Context

Images and video footage are incredibly important in today’s digital news landscape. Images can be more powerful than text, conveying stories in a compelling and visual way to audiences around the world. They give us a window into warzones and protests, and equip us with a better sense of the realities on the ground. But images also come with their own set of challenges.

There is growing concern about the widespread proliferation of disinformation, with manipulated images and deep-fake videos, aimed at swaying public opinion. However, the legislation introduced to tackle this issue is often abused to silence independent or critical journalism. There are a number of other legal threats that visual journalists are confronted with, as demonstrated by those arrested when filming protests, or facing lawsuits for their cartoons.

Learn about the threats that cartoonists and visual journalists face through the podcast, Tough Laugh (the first episode features our legal director, Pádraig Hughes) and by watching our webinar.

The Podcast – Tough Laugh x Tough Law

We all come across great political cartoons. Reading a magazine, on social media, watching TV. But we seldom think about the author of the cartoon that made us laugh, or think, or even made us angry.

Many cartoonists face economic hardship, harassment, threats, and even physical violence for the job they do. Some are killed. And they often are not considered equals to journalists. The Tough Laugh podcast tells their stories.

Listen to our legal director, Pádraig Hughes, discuss how the the law is used to intimidate cartoonists or criminalise their work on the first episode of the podcast: Tough Laugh x Tough Law.

The podcast is ideated by Italian Cartoonist, Emanuele Del Rosso and is produced by Emanuele Del Rosso and Frederica Testi. It is funded by UNESCO’s Global Media Defence Fund.

“The use of laws to criminalise speech or intimidate journalists is one of the most important methods authoritarian governments and non-state actors use to supress journalistic work. This is a particular risk for cartoonists where their work can be open to interpretation.”

– Pádraig Hughes


The Webinar

On Wednesday 25 January 2022 we hosted a webinar to explore the challenges faced by journalists working with images. 

We heard from an expert panel about the challenges that come with visual journalism. Cartoonist Zach from the Philippines discussed the role of cartoons in social justice and human rights discourse. Zach regularly contributes cartoons for Assortedge, an emerging online media organisation in the Philippines, specialising in contextual reporting, explanatory journalism and satire. Zach’s work is often critical of the state of human rights in the Philippines.

“When cartoons are published online, press cartoonists often get instant responses. We get mixed responses due to the polarisation of opinions within the digital space, which is also prone to disinformation. When posting cartoons that are critical of the government, I often receive offensive comments from trolls, as well as threats and harassment.

Furthermore, draconian laws passed in recent years are being weaponised against journalists and cartoonists. Libel and cyber libel laws are most commonly used against us. Additionally, the Anti-Terrorism Bill passed during the pandemic enables the indiscriminate and unjust labelling of activists and progressive publications as terrorists. Many journalists are being sued, threatened and killed. As a result, the Philippines has dropped to number 147 out of 180 on the 2022 RSF World Press Freedom Index.”

– Zach.

Moreover, we heard from the Digital Verification Unit about how it documents and verifies digital evidence – such as images and videos – pertaining to human rights abuses, and how it uses open source investigative techniques in the pursuit of accountability. The Digital Verification Unit is based at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, and its principal partner is Amnesty International. It is also a member of Amnesty’s Digital Verification Corps. The Digital Verificartion Unit also works with other partners such as NGOs and UN Commissions of Inquiry to advance human rights documentation and strengthen the veracity of information.

“The Digital Verification Unit is working at the cutting edge of international justice and human rights investigations. I say that having worked in The Hague on international criminal trials concerning war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for over 15 years. What I’ve seen over that period is an increasing use and reliance on digital evidence, including evidence picked up from open sources”

– Dr. Matthew Gillett.


*Please note that although we originally advertised that our trustee and media lawyer Galina Arapova (Mass Media Defence Centre) would be on the panel, due to unforeseen circumstances she was unable to attend.

Watch our previous webinar, during which we spoke about freedom if expression in a time of war, here.

If you are a cartoonist, photojournalist, video journalist (or other journalist) under threat for your reporting, apply for legal and financial support here.

Recent News

Media Defence Files Intervention at European Court to Protect Anonymity Online

Media Defence has filed a third-party intervention before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Koumiotis v Greece to protect anonymity online. The case concerns criminal proceedings against the applicant, the owner and manager of an online blog. The applicant, following a series of posts criticising a businessman, was convicted of slanderous defamation. The […]


Call for Consultants: Independent evaluation of ‘International Network of Internet Freedom Lawyers (INIFL)’ multi-regional project

1. About Media Defence Media Defence’s Vision A world where journalists no longer face legal challenges that threaten their ability to report freely and independently on issues of public interest, allowing citizens to be better informed, able to hold those in power to account. Media Defence’s Mission  To ensure legal protection of journalists and media […]


Call for Applications: Freedom of Expression Litigation Surgery for Women Lawyers from South and Southeast Asia

3-5 September 2024, Kathmandu, Nepal Media Defence is calling for applications from lawyers based in Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam to participate in a forthcoming litigation surgery on the right to freedom of expression aimed at women lawyers. The […]