Media groups demand anti-sexual harassment policies

Association of Women Lawyers committee member Meera Samantheer (pictured) said sexual harassment has nothing to do with a woman’s dressing. — File picture by Choo Choy May
Association of Women Lawyers committee member Meera Samantheer (pictured) said sexual harassment has nothing to do with a woman’s dressing. — File picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 — Media groups urged newsrooms today to enact policies to protect women journalists from sexual harassment in the office and on the field, amid allegations of politicians groping reporters.

The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJM) said media organisations must adopt complaint mechanisms to ensure action is taken in cases of journalists facing sexual harassment from politicians or other public figures.

“Having such strong standards and policies will not only protect female journalists, but would also be useful in stopping those that harass journalists in other ways, including blackmail or bribery,” IoJM said in a statement.

The journalists’ association also criticised an incident where an unnamed newsroom reportedly encouraged a journalist to “capitalise” on a politician’s sexual attention when she reported the harassment to her superiors.

“It is especially imperative that editors in Malaysian newsrooms and industry leaders refrain from bowing to politicians and allowing them to get away with uncivilised behaviour,” said IoJM.

Asian Correspondent reported Monday sexual harassment suffered by women journalists in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines from politicians.

Two Malaysian journalists, one of whom was anonymous, alleged groping and sexual propositions from local politicians, including a minister.

Kuala Lumpur-based media movement Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) and Jakarta-based Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) said the allegations of eight female journalists quoted in Asian Correspondent, who had claimed they were sexually harassed by elected government officials, was an existing problem that has been ignored for too long.

“It is considered not an important issue or has been ‘normalised’ as part of daily interactions between journalists and their news sources.

“The voices of a few women journalists who are brave enough to share their stories means the time has come for media houses to respond by setting an example on gender equality and respect,” they said in a joint statement today.

The groups said the blurred line of what constitutes sexual harassment should be clearly drawn and appropriate channels for such matters to be addressed must be dealt with in a holistic manner.

It acknowledged the importance for journalists to build relationships and communications with politicians, but said this must be based on mutual respect.

“There should be no excuse to allow such behaviours in the course of pursuing a story,” it said.

Meanwhile Women’s Aid Organisation vice president and Association of Women Lawyers committee member Meera Samantheer told The Star that sexual harassment had nothing to do with a woman’s dressing.

“It is the attitude and lack of respect for women,” she said.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) president Mohd Taufek Razak said yesterday that among “attractive” female journalists, “harassment can easily happen if both parties consent to it”.

He also advised women journalists not to dress “in an overtly sexy outfit” and to decline interviews at places like nightclubs or politicians’ homes.

After his remarks were criticised by women activists and journalists, he issued a fresh statement today saying that he did not endorse victim blaming and acknowledged the problem of sexual harassment faced by media professionals.

According to Asian Correspondent, one in three Malaysian women have experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment and an online poll last year found around 60 per cent of Malaysian workers from various sectors have been sexually harassed at work by a boss or by someone senior.

The report also cited the Hofstede’s Power Dynamic Index — which expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally — Malaysia scored the highest (100), followed by Indonesia (94) and Philippines (78) in contrast to the United States and United Kingdom scored 40 and 35, respectively.