By By Edward Makuzva
The issue of sexual harassment in newsrooms is not often talked about. Yet it’s huge and even growing with few or no checks.
The problem is made worse by the fact that there has been a lack of credible data and research to guide interventions.
Another reason that survivors don’t often report their experiences, as many victims have told me, is that they fear it could harm their reputation and impact negatively on their job. Many worry that speaking out could lead to retribution, or they could experience further trauma if they come forward.
Furthermore, news organisations are dominated by male executives, and this can sometimes be a problem for women who suffer sexual harassment and the vast majority of chief executives of newspaper organisations are men.
Many survivors have said they would feel more comfortable reporting sexual harassment if their bosses were women.
In an interview with this publication, Vice Chairman of the Health Communicators Forum (HCF) Catherine Murombedzi added that education and empowerment must start from the college. Sending students both males and females to a newsroom, where it is known that there are predators, without arming the ‘hunted’ is the biggest mistake.
Murombedzi revealed that the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, MISA, Health Communicators Forum (HCF), Media Connect, ZINEF, and all journalist federations must source funds to bridge this missing link.
“You can not send someone to swim in a torrential river without a life jacket.
“As long as we approach harassment from the wrong end, nothing will change,” said Murombedzi.
The HCF vice chairman highlighted that the late Abigail Gamanya (may her dear soul rest in peace) used to visit publishing houses talking to the leadership and HR, alerting them on what was taking place,
“We need more leaders to continue on this noble track.”
“I am glad that a female at ZBC was brave enough to bring this to light. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. More ugly scenes will be exposed.
Look at how social media is demonising her. Patriarch socialised us to abuse the victims. Society can end up blaming a victim.
“It’s not only at ZBC that sexual abuse is rampant,, people purporting to be pastors have abused students in the newsrooms. The whip must come down to all perpetrators. Chokwadi vabereki vototya kuti vana vari ku attachment kunge vaenda ku war front.
“As HCF, we don’t condone this abuse. Heads must roll. Those intending to make police reports must be assured that the long arm of justice will fish them out. No one is above the law ,” said Murombedzi.
Speaking at the same occasion, Media trainer and Zim Now managing partner, Monica Cheru said women who are the biggest victims of quid pro quo sexual harassment must take urgency by understanding how to effectively document sexual harassment and present a solid case for due prosecution of alleged culprits.
Cheru added that It is the responsibility of each employer to have a sexual harassment policy and the responsibility of every employee to read and understand that policy.
“We also need to address the elephant in the room, which is that it takes two partners to trade sex for favors and gain. Yes, the one in authority is abusing their position, but let’s also consider that the other party is trying to leverage an unfair advantage through granting sex. That culture must be stamped out totally, “Cheru explained.
Addressing journalists at a workshop, organised by Veritas, Thursday in the capital, Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), commissioner Miriam Majome said the Media Commission is greatly concerned about the reports of sexual harassment and we have issued a statement against it.
Majome added that the commission launched a Sexual Harassment Policy for the Media Industry two weeks ago, and it contains the guidelines and procedures for dealing with complaints and grievances. It also has recommendations on how the scourge can be ameliorated.
“The policy was validated by the media industry, and the Commission is considering conducting an independent inquiry into the ZBC allegations. Further details will be availed if the mooted inquiry succeeds, “Majome explained.
Commissioner Majome revealed that there are no cases received by the Commission so far, although we know it is rife in the media industry.
“What can be done to end sexual harrassment in newsrooms, we will have to carry on highlighting it and throwing awareness and encouraging victims to speak out and get emotional support for themselves and to expose perpetrators”, She said.
The push for a Sexual Harassment Act comes as the media has been rocked by cases of sexual harassment.
ZBC radio services director Robson Mhandu was also suspended last week for allegedly demanding sex from a subordinate.
Power FM station manager, Scott Matengambiri, has been suspended by the broadcaster for allegedly demanding oral sex from a female subordinate.
Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) spokesperson Sandra Mudzengerere said the envisaged Sexual Harassment Act will also offer legal recourse for victims.
“Sexual harassment not only violates the rights of individuals but also hampers the progress of our society as a whole,” Mudzengerere said.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) Secretary General Perfect Hlongwane added that the union has been recording a number of cases or people who have come out to report on these cases.
“Media houses must have robust sexual harassment policies and enforce them. Perpetrators should be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted if guilty.
“We are going to speak out to end sexual harassment. This is a scarge which has been in the industry so we need to be collective in dealing with the scarge of sexual harassment.
” As the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists it is one of the things which we have been putting more importance on.We need to create newsrooms and we need to create spaces that are free and enabling for our journalists to be able to work without any challenges or any violations”, Hlongwane explained.
The ZUJ Secretary General highlighted that the sad part is that most times, these violations are perpetrated by those that hold offices and also hold power.
Hlongwane added that people who are most affected are people who are coming from colleges, especially young girls.
“You find out that with time, less and less women are found in the newsrooms because they violated when they came to these spaces.
“So what we think should be done and let’s be collective infighting sexual harassment in the newsrooms. Secondly, we have a standardised policy framework that will cut across all media houses in the country.
” To ensure media houses is adire to policy that is standardised that will then have enforcement mechanisms because when standard we know people will able to enforce,” Hlongwane added.
Hlongwane revealed that enforcement itself is one of the pillars which we are working on to say there is need to an enforcement mechanisms which is independent of the office bearers or those who hold power at media houses and these are the most perpetrators in most cases.
With the victim blamed for the abuse suffered, few dare come out to report