Media cannot ignore sexual harassment in its own ranks

By Jane Gilmore
Tue 13 December 14:36 AEDT
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The swift condemnation of the Daily Mail’s grotesque intrusion on Samantha Armytage last week was heartening, but responding to isolated incidents misses the wider implications of gendered violence in the media. Not just in how it reports on women and violence, but the widespread gender discrimination inside newsrooms and publications.

The MEAA conducted a study into discrimination issues for women working in media and found that 41% have experienced harassment, bullying and trolling on social media and a staggering 48% have experienced intimidation, abuse or sexual harassment at work.

This report was largely ignored by the mainstream press.

To put this in context, the Victorian Human Rights Commission conducted an independent review of Victoria Police last year and found that 40% of their female officers had experienced sexual harassment at work. Similar investigations found 46% of women at the Australian Federal Police, 26% of women at SA Police, and  25% of women in the Australian Defence Force had been sexually harassed.

These reviews were reported by most of the mainstream media, under headlines like:

Elizabeth Broderick finds bullying, sexual harassment rife in Australian Federal Police

Defence hit by wave of compensation claims after abuse culture revealed

Victoria Police officers tell of rape and sexual harassment by colleagues as almost 1000 officers claim to be victims

Damning report finds sexual harassment rife among SA Police

The result of these investigations has been ongoing reviews and plans of action.

While there is a difference in that the media is not a single organisation, they are not exempt from the requirement to take the problem seriously, report on the facts and ensure their employees are not in danger at work.

Apart from exhaustive effort by the Media Alliance and Women in Media, very little in the way of industry-wide recognition or workplace management has been reported or implemented.

Individual women have published courageous accounts. Karen Middleton’s piece in the Saturday Paper was a breathtaking account of a culture of old boys club cronyism that includes sexual harassment as a norm.

The recent resignation of The Age editor-in-chief Mark Forbes over sexual harassment complaints shows such behaviour reaches right to the upper echelons of media organisations. But not all sexual harassment claims end so well for complainants. Earlier this year two sisters were sacked by Channel 7 after one of them lodged a complaint against a senior male colleague.

The Mates Over Merit report demonstrated a culture of gendered abuse and discrimination in the media. Entrenched gender pay gaps, abuse and harassment haven’t changed in decades, and a refusal to recognise or respond to online bullying was reported by women of all ages and across all sectors of the media.

Were this level of harassment and discrimination in any other industry or organisation, the media would have no hesitation in reporting it and rightly describing it as systemic failure.

We should be equally responsive to such failures of our own industry. Change does not happen without widespread recognition that a problem exists.

It’s past time the media took action on behalf of its own employees, particularly if it wants to maintain credibility in reporting on such abuses in other areas of society. 

From the Mates Over Merit report:

  • 48% of women respondents have experienced intimidation, abuse or sexual harassment in the work place
  • 41% have experienced harassment bullying and trolling on social media
  • In 2015 the gender pay gap for the information, media and telecommunications industry was 23%.
  • Despite the majority of respondents having access to paid maternity leave and flexible work, who’ve taken leave report some difficulty returning to work
  • 16% of the respondents indicated that their employer had policies to deal with online harassment
  • 31% women journalists were identified as the producers of media content
  • 27% of hosting line ups in radio breakfast and drive programing are women
  • 24.6% of all experts quoted in coverage are women