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Sexual predators prowl newsrooms



SEXUAL harassment has become deeply embedded in newsroom culture, making it difficult to dismantle the practice, media experts have warned.


 During a training workshop, conducted by Gender and Media Connect, stakeholders expressed frustration at the low success rate of reporting a perpetrator and having justice served.

 Former AB Communications chief executive officer Susan Makore says there are no supporting structures for victims of harassment, making it difficult for the affected to report violations.

“When you look at media organisations, there are many hurdles in terms of getting to the bottom of sexual harassment up to a point where someone is actually taken to whether it’s court or a disciplinary hearing process is finalised. As media organisations, I think the greatest challenge is the due process itself. Some media organisations do not have support systems that can assist especially the young ones like interns that are coming in, to be able to feel confident enough that when they report a senior reporter, a boss — because research has proven that sexual harassment is usually perpetrated by supervisors — media organisations have to come up with robust complaints handling procedures,” said Makore.

 The wheels of justice turn very slowly when the issues of sexual harassment are dealt with using the internal channels. A recent case, although not media related, is that of former Confederation of  Zimbabwe Industries employee Rita Mbatha, who got a US$47 000 pay-out in damages 20 years after the case of harassment had happened.

This does not give much confidence to survivors of harassment. At law, sexual harassment is a criminal offence under unfair labour practices in terms of the Labour Act.

 It is a contravention of section 8(g) and 8(h) which states that: “An employer or any other person commits an unfair labour practice if, by act or omission, he demands from any employee or prospective employee any sexual favour as a condition of,  the recruitment for employment; or , the creation, classification or abolition of jobs or posts; or the improvement of the remuneration or other conditions of employment of the employee or, the choice of persons for jobs or posts, training, advancement, apprenticeships, transfer, promotion or retrenchment; or, the provision of facilities related to or connected with employment; or any other matter related to employment; or engages in unwelcome sexually-determined behaviour towards any employee, whether verbal or otherwise, such as making physical contact or advances, sexually coloured remarks, or displaying pornographic materials in the workplace,” reads section eight sub-sections (g) and (h) of the Labour Act. The police said they are ready to assist if the victims are willing to go through the whole pro[1]cess without withdrawing midway.

 “The Zimbabwe Republic Police is ready to deal with cases of sexual harassment in the media sector, but the huge challenge is the cooperation of the victims. Why? Because the victim is harassed, they are intimidated, they also face peer pressure from the so-called court of public opinion. Where at the end of the day some of them are not willing to come forward or they are then forced to withdraw the case before they appear before the courts. So what it entails is, there is need for stakeholders to play ball when it comes to the issue of dealing with sexual harassment in the media sector,” police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) has developed a strategy to assist media houses in dealing with this cancer once and for all. The ZMC has come up with a sexual harassment policy which has to be adopted as a prerequisite for accreditation or renewal of accreditation for newsrooms.

“So we are trying to work with our media stakeholders to develop a media-wide sexual harassment policy. We have done a lot of work in that regard. We have had engagements in Ha[1]rare, we have had engagements in Bulawayo, so what we are moving to now is just to finalise that draft policy factoring in the issues that have been raised by the media stakeholders. We are going further then to engage the highest echelons of our media, your boards, your senior management, to also have that buy-in if you can call it that. But ultimately the idea is to then launch the sexual harassment policy in April of this year and then make sure it is adopted across all media houses. We want also that when we amend the ZMC Act it must reflect sexual harassment policy as one of the requirements for either registration or renewal of registration,” said Zimbabwe Media Commission executive secretary Godwin Phiri.

Makore also suggests that local media houses adopt the Kenya Media Council model of recruiting interns, to reduce cases of sexual harassment.

“I like what countries like Kenya have done where interns are no longer applying to media houses for internship but they go through the Kenya Media Council and it is the one that does interviews and places journalists. At least that way, the quid pro quo aspects are taken care of. I know that I am there because I deserve to be there not because some editor in that newsroom is expecting me to render some services for me to remain in that newsroom,” she said.

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