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Working to stamp out sexual harassment in Newsrooms


Sexual harassment is a major problem across Africa and globally. Now the WAN-IFRA’s Women In News programme is empowering newsrooms to deal with the issue proactively.

A panel discussion held during the Digital Media Africa conference held in South Africa between 11 and 12 September 2019 highlighted the impact of sexual harassment on the media industry, while offering those in attendance concrete steps to deal with it.

Speaking on sexual harassment in newsrooms, African Gender and Media Initiative Executive Director Jane Godia said this topic was one that raised a lot of anxiety.

"Sexual harassment is often not about sex but about power,” said Godia. "It often happens in unequal relationships where one person has more power than the other - for instance between a superior and a subordinate."

Godia was joined on the panel by former editor Vincent Kahiya, who now sits on the WAN-IFRA Women in News Programme Steering Committee and Qaanitah Hunter, an award-winning political journalist from South Africa.

Vincent Kahiya. ©frayintermedia

Godia defined sexual harassment as, “unwanted and offensive behaviour of a sexual nature that violates a person's dignity and makes them feel humiliated and degraded".

Global statistics from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) reveal that 48% of female journalists have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their job, with 83% of the victims saying they did not report the incidents.

Godia said sexual harassment can start off as a friendly hug and progress to rape. It was therefore important to know where to draw the line - especially in office relationships. She emphasised the importance of having a sexual harassment policy in newsrooms to ensure a safe workplace.

Kahiya spoke about the impact of sexual harassment on business, saying previous studies on the topic did not focus on the impact that unwanted sexual advances had on businesses, such as the fact that it can result in workplaces losing talent.

The impact on victims include trauma, psychological pain and absenteeism. The impact on the perpetrator can include job loss, legal action, prosecution and being ostracised.

"This is a call for mainstream action against sexual harassment in the newsroom,” said Kahiya.

Hunter focused on attacks on journalists online. She said that journalists were not safe and often became the targets of attacks from political leaders.

Qaanitah Hunter. ©frayintermedia.

Harassment of journalists online could take the form of doxing, where people release personal information about the journalist like their mobile phone numbers or physical address.

Other forms of harassment included threats of violence.

Hunter said when she wrote an exposé on President Ramaphosa, she faced profanities and attacks, doxing and even threats of violence. She noted that online harassment had real consequences - not just in terms of physical safety but also in terms of metal health.

As a way of curbing the harassment of journalists online, Hunter said the South African National Editors Forum is taking legal measures against politicians who are victimising journalists.

You can download copies of the WAN-IFRA Sexual Harassment in the media guide here:

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