The BBC's political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has been given a bodyguard to protect her at this week's Labour party conference in Brighton following sexist online abuse. She will be flanked by a security team both inside and outside the conference zone, The Guardian reported.
Kuenssberg has long been on the receiving end of trolls and earlier this year was targeted by an online petition demanding that she be sacked. The campaign claimed that her reporting during the election was biased against Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, with some supporters directing abusive and sexist language against her. Petition website 38 Degrees subsequently took it down, calling the abuse "totally unacceptable".
The BBC reportedly gave Kuenssberg access to a security team during this year's general election campaign, although the corporation wouldn't comment on the claims nor on the more recent reports, saying it “does not comment on security issues”. However, The Times published a photo of the journalist with a man it says is a former soldier who is now a security consultant for the BBC.
Kuenssberg has also been targeted by Ukip supporters, lending weight to the argument that the abuse is at least in part fuelled by her gender. Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who has faced persistent online trolling herself, defended Kuenssberg earlier this year, saying: “It is her job to ask difficult questions. It is her job to be sceptical about everything we say. Nothing justifies the personal vitriol, or the misogyny.”
The Independent on Sunday's former political editor Jane Merrick said earlier this year that while the BBC's previous political editor, Nick Robinson, has been "accused of Tory bias... he never experienced this level of nastiness.” Merrick told The Guardian: “Of course, not all Corbyn supporters are sexist – far from it – but there is a core of hard-left misogyny that comes out against women when Corbyn is under pressure – such as the abuse against Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips."
Commentators have suggested that the threat against Kuenssberg should worry us all – not just those in the media bubble or political village. "Imagine, for a second, if you heard this story about a foreign country," James Kirkup wrote on the Spectator's blog. "Imagine a country where a journalist could not go about the basic task of reporting a political meeting without fear of physical attack. Would you consider that country to be a fully functioning democracy?"
Indeed, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell made light of the reports this morning. "She should tell them John McDonnell will sort ‘em out," he said, suggesting he considers the whole thing is a joke when, clearly, it's anything but.