Sexual harassment in media fraternity

EMELDA Musonda.

RECENTLY the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)’s Women In News Zambian national gathering got the participants talking on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the media.
From the conversation, it is evident that sexual harassment is rife in the media and many journalists have experienced it.
Journalists, like other professionals, are not exempt from the vice that has seemingly been treated with kid gloves over the years.
While sexual harassment has been there for generations, perhaps culture, sensitivity of the matter and ignorance on what constitutes the vice have made silence over the issue more eminent.
Sexual harassment is generally defined as unwanted and offensive behaviour of a sexual nature that violates a person’s dignity and makes them feel degraded, humiliated, intimidated or threatened. It is the person on the receiving end of the behaviour who decides whether or not it is unwanted or offensive, regardless of what the other person’s intention is. Someone being sexually harassed might agree to a certain conduct and might even actively participate in it even though they find it offensive, especially if they have been threatened or intimidated.
Sexual harassment can be physical, verbal and non-verbal. Physical sexual harassment is where the perpetrator uses physical pressure or force to have sexual contact with another person against their will.
It can also be verbal where the perpetrator gives another person unwanted sexual attention through verbal or written comments or conversation.
Non-verbal is where someone gives another person unwanted sexual attention through noises or actions at a distance.
Sexual harassment in the media industry is not only peculiar to Zambia but it is a global problem. A 2013-2014 global survey found that: 48 percent of female journalists had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their job, while 83 percent said that they did not report the incidents.
While sexual harassment is experienced by both genders, women are the most victims.
For journalists, sexual harassment can take place in the office, in the field while conducting interviews, at an event or during a trip.
While there has been so much silence around the issue for many years, it is heartening that many have now started coming out and conversing around the issue.
Worth noting is that the global #metoo movement has been a game changer in issues of sexual harassment; it has enabled more victims to speak out.
WAN-IFRA’s Women In News programme, which focuses on equipping media women with skills and confidence, to assume leadership roles, has also taken a keen interest on the matter.
WIN is working with media partners in Zambia and other participating countries on the continent and beyond to address the vice, which has been identified as one of the hindrances against female journalists’ advancement in the media.
WIN acknowledges that sexual harassment is one of the contributing factors to the gender imbalance in the top structures of the media, where women are few or missing.
Apart from coming up with a tool kit on sexual harassment, WIN, through its Advisory Services, also offers training and sensitisation on the subject to media partners.
This is all in a bid to bring media managers to a place where they have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in their organisations.
Committing to zero-tolerance towards sexual harassment is the first, and perhaps the biggest, step an organisation can take. Committing to zero-tolerance requires organisations to acknowledge that sexual harassment happens. It also requires buy-in from boards and senior management. Without this commitment, the rest is superficial – the people running an organisation need to take the challenge of sexual harassment seriously.
Media managers need to understand that sexual harassment has far-reaching consequences not only on victims but an offender and organisation.
To the victim, sexual harassment can lead to career and financial loss through low motivation for work, poor work performance, loss of job/income, foregoing career opportunities, and legal costs.
Sexual harassment also has emotional and mental effects on the victim such as loss of self-esteem, stress and anxiety, depression, withdrawal and isolation and increased risk of high blood pressure.
Whether done wilfully or out of ignorance, sexual harassment can have a backlash on the perpetuator through marked employment record, demotion, loss of income/job, resentment, depression, compensation costs and imprisonment.
In Zambia, sexual harassment is prohibited under the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act 2011. Criminal sanctions are provided under the Penal Code. A person convicted of sexual harassment at the workplace is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than three years but not exceeding 15 years.
When sexual harassment occurs among employees, the media organisation also bears the brunt through decreased productivity, compromised quality of content, damaged reputation and financial costs arising from reduced revenue and replacement of staff.
Given the high cost of sexual harassment on employees, media owners will do well to come up with policies to address the problem.
A sexual harassment policy is ideal as it provides a set of practical and detailed definitions, processes and steps to help media organisations prevent and handle cases of sexual harassment.
Providing protection and procedures can help everyone to understand where to draw the line on appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. This can also help victims to come forward and report cases of sexual harassment.
Needless to say, media houses have nothing to lose but everything to gain by taking a zero-tolerance stance on sexual harassment.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor and WAN-IFRA Women In News Steering Committee Member.

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