Sexual harassment: Media must remove the log in its eye first

What you need to know:

  • Journalism derives its worth from its role of protecting and educating the public but how can we achieve this when we are so ill-equipped to do the same with sexual harassment in our own workplaces?

  • Maybe exposing other people’s misdeeds keep them from looking at their own.

  • It’s about time the media took huge sips of the water they preach about and throw away bottles of the wine they have been imbibing when dealing with sexual harassment.

It’s a universally acknowledged truth that a journalist’s job is to dig up dirt and expose societal ills.

In the utopian world, journalists are supposed to hold power to account and warn audiences about those doing them harm. But how exactly are they supposed to do that when newsrooms in Kenya incubate sexual harassment?

DIRT DIGGING

Roshani Consultancy Services released the findings of a survey last week titled 'Highlighting and Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Abuse in the Media (Heshima)' which told us what we’ve always known; that sexual harassment is rampant in newsrooms despite the existence of policies to curb it. And that young women are the most affected by it.

Any interns or fresh employees in the newsroom will tell you that they were warned about how the newsroom is a jungle. They will tell you how they were warned that they would be preyed upon by predators, commonly known as mafisi, at the slightest provocation.

Maybe the newsroom is a jungle because of the inordinate amount of time colleagues spend working together. Maybe it’s that there are not enough jobs to go around, so those in power use that fact to demand sexual favours. Who knows?

The only indisputable fact is that sexual harassment gets in the way of dirt-digging. It compromises the quality of work by journalists in ways that could be unfathomable to the public whom journalism is supposed to serve. Picture a talented young female journalist working on a big story who has to meet a source somewhere in an evening. She knows this story could make her career and expose some big shots in government. It’s a “heads will roll” kind of story. The source knows this too and refuses to cede information to her unless she gives in to his sexual demands.

She says a big No, but the source threatens to slut-shame her or even goes ahead to actually do it after the explosive article runs. If she dares to report his misconduct, she will most likely be ostracised or ignored.

Now, imagine another female journalist being denied access to resources such as audio recorders, transport, cameras, and allowances because she refuses to sleep with her superior. This gets in the way of her work and it means that the public, whose interests she wanted to serve, would not access the information she wanted to dig up. Picture a female journalist being pimped to potential sources because her bosses believe as a woman, she should do whatever it takes to pry information or being forced to sleep with her superior to get her stories to run, no matter how groundbreaking. Such actions get in the way of the public accessing information.

REPERCUSSIONS

These examples illuminate the stench of sexual harassment in newsrooms but more important, they highlight the adverse repercussions it has on the journalist playing her role of informing and educating the public.

Sexual harassment is obviously not just a newsroom problem. One could argue that the reason sexual harassment festers even beyond newsrooms is that men and women transfer the traditional male-female relationship in Africa to the workplace. This traditional relationship involves flirtation and good-natured but suggestive jokes that would not survive many an HR code of conduct. That aside, the irony of how media houses handle sexual harassment cases in the wake of #MeToo is not lost on most people. #MeToo is a global movement against sexual harassment and abuse which started after sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein came to light. The media was at the forefront of giving the bit by bit details of the accusations and his trial even as their own houses were burning with #MeToo stories begging to be told.

Journalism derives its worth from its role of protecting and educating the public but how can we achieve this when we are so ill-equipped to do the same with sexual harassment in our own workplaces? Maybe exposing other people’s misdeeds keep them from looking at their own.

It’s about time the media took huge sips of the water they preach about and throw away bottles of the wine they have been imbibing when dealing with sexual harassment.

The writer is the Editor, Living Magazine; [email protected]

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