From bosses’ propositions to rape jokes, stories of sexual harassments within media emerge

The stories by nine anonymous journalists about the sexual harassment they suffered were published by IoJ shortly after a sexual harassment complaint hit radio station BFM. — AFP pic
The stories by nine anonymous journalists about the sexual harassment they suffered were published by IoJ shortly after a sexual harassment complaint hit radio station BFM. — AFP pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 18 — A female journalist has revealed her supervisor hit on her when he asked her out for drinks and commented on how good her body looked in a dress. One was told by colleagues she was “bangable” due to her bust size.

Another related that when she was pregnant, a few of her male colleagues would even wonder aloud what her breast milk tastes like, and if she would give them a “sample”. Following her complaint, the human resources department told her to “lighten up” instead.

These are just some of the sexual harassment experiences suffered by nine women media workers from several publications interviewed by the Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) since August.

“A pervasive theme highlighted across the interviews is a reluctance to speak up for the fear of being disbelieved or losing employment opportunities,” IoJ said in a statement today.

“Many interviewees spoke of working in an environment that inadvertently encourages such harassment. This includes sexually objectifying comments and repeated unwanted sexual advances passed off as ‘jokes’. As one woman put it: ‘I feel like all my professional achievements have been reduced to how my body looks’.”

IoJ noted that interviewees also highlighted media companies’ failures in handling sexual harassment cases when they are reported.

“One interviewee spoke of being ‘brushed off’ by supervisors and her company’s human resources department for making a ‘fuss about rape jokes’ from her colleague. Others say their cases were dropped after internal investigations failed to go beyond collecting statements from the parties directly involved in the matter,” said IoJ.

The stories by nine anonymous journalists about the sexual harassment they suffered and the date the incidents happened, with the media organisations unnamed, were published by IoJ shortly after a sexual harassment complaint hit radio station BFM

The responses were collated from across English-language news media, Malay-language news media, online media, and a magazine.

These are some of the stories:

1995: “Locker-room talk in the newsroom was common, and you’re expected to just go along with it – it’s all just fun and jokes. One colleague crossed the line by putting his hand up my skirt. He claimed it was to show how short it was. I complained to my female supervisor, and she said it was my fault for dressing the way I did because ‘you can’t blame men for behaving like men’.”

2014: “Practically all the single women in the office were warned about a person from top management. He would frequently invite young women to his personal office for after-hours drinks. Our immediate supervisors and human resources knew about this, but just told women to refuse if they felt uncomfortable. It was obvious that those who refused the invites tended to miss out on more coveted assignments or interviews.”

2017: “My colleague cornered me in the car park for a ‘quick kiss’. I was so shocked that I just froze, and he went for it. He said we should go out for dinner so that ‘we could do more’. I got into my car and burst into tears because of the shock of it. In the end, HR said their hands were tied because it was a he-said-she-said situation and of course he denied the whole thing.”

Sexual harassment policies at media outlets

IoJ said three out of five media organisations responded to its questions on their internal policies for dealing with sexual harassment.

Kumpulan Media Karangkraf told IoJ that Grup Karangkraf, which owns Malay daily Sinar Harian, received six reports of sexual harassment between 2000 and 2018.

“Of these, one staff was suspended; two were suspended and demoted; and two were fired. One case saw the accused hand in a 24-hour resignation. Grup Karangkraf plans to develop its own policy on sexual harassment in the near future,” said IoJ.

Malaysiakini chief executive and co-founder Premesh Chandran told IoJ that the company’s staff handbook elaborated on what was considered sexual harassment and processes for recourse.

According to IoJ, Premesh said the online news portal had one sexual harassment case in the past that led to a domestic inquiry.

“The panel recommended to the management that the staff should be dismissed, which was the action taken by management,” it said.

BFM, said IoJ, declined to comment in light of their ongoing investigations on an anonymous sexual harassment allegation in the radio station, but promised to address the media group’s concerns after their probe.

“While we cannot claim to offer personal justice to survivors, we hope that by highlighting these accounts we can make this conversation an ongoing one. In this regard, we also welcome other stakeholders including civil society organisations and media outlets to see how we can support each other in curbing sexual harassment in the media industry,” said IoJ.

Journalists who want to share their experience of sexual harassment can contact IoJ at [email protected].

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