Urgent need for laws to prevent sexual misconduct in work place — Institute of Journalists Malaysia

DECEMBER 3 — The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IOJ) has been following, with great concern, developments stemming from an anonymous letter alleging sexual harassment and more serious crimes having taken place at a local media outlet.

We would like to reiterate that sexual harassment should not be taken lightly, and even a one-off remark, made in jest, may be enough to cause discomfort, and disrupt the professional dynamics in the workplace.

Unfortunately, many victims of such dare not speak up, especially in a workplace like the newsroom or the general media industry, where power dynamics are imbalanced towards a few powerful gatekeepers.

This recent news report points towards a much larger problem facing the media industry, where many victims, mostly women, dare not speak up, for fear of retribution or public attack for standing up for their rights.

The IOJ also calls for a speedy and thorough investigation by the management and police into both the harassment and rape allegation in the letter, justice delayed is justice denied.

While companies may have internal reporting policies on paper, the fact that a person felt the need to write her plight, and that of other alleged victims in an anonymous letter to other news outlets, is very worrying.

One issue the IOJ would like to pose to all media outlets is whether or not they are equipped with robust internal reporting, or other mechanism, for handling complaints fairly for all involved? And if not, what are the stumbling blocks preventing this from happening?

While the media outlet in question has responded that they are carrying out internal investigations, the IOJ hopes that the investigations will be done without fear or favour, and that the victim(s) are given a safe space in which to address their issues at the workplace.

Earlier in August this year, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh said there is an urgent need to put in place specific laws to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace.

Although that remark came in response to a senior doctor harassing his female juniors in a hospital, this recent letter underscores the urgent need for such legislation to reduce such incidences, if not completely cut them out, at any workplace.

Following the Federal Court's 2016 judgement in the sexual harassment case between two former Lembaga Tabung Haji employees, victims now may take legal action against their harassers before the civil court beyond the narrow remedy provided by the Employment Act.

This conversation should not end here with empty promises to do better until the next incident.

The larger issue here is the culture of silence that affects victims of sexual harassment and assault. We need to give space for allowing victims to be heard while maintaining due process in investigating such cases. The IoJ welcomes fellow journalists and civil society organisations in identifying ways to move this conversation into concrete action.

We wish to underscore that this situation, regardless of outcome, is a reminder of the urgency of comprehensive laws to prevent sexual misconduct across all industries, such as through legislating Malaysia’s Sexual Harassment Act into being.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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