Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

Sexual Harassment: Are the Media Guilty?

Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

Sexual Harassment: Are the Media Guilty?

Article excerpt

Proactive policies are needed in the newsroom.

Editor's note: Long after the fires created by the Thomas/Hill hearings have died down, the issues surrounding sexual harassment continue to smolder. The media's coverage has helped to heighten sensitivity to the problem, but Lawrence R. Levin, an attorney specializing in media law, raises a question: Isn't it time that the media itself, effective at reporting facts and exploring credibility, assess their own vulnerability to charges of sexual harassment in the workplace and put into effect preventive measures? The following is the author's argument for the media's obligation to "clean house" and his suggestion for a solution to prevent sexual harassment.

For more than 200 years, the media has proudly trumpeted its obligation to investigate and report the truth. As Justice Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings raised the nation's awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace far beyond what could have been imagined, print and broadcast media explored many issues--such as the credibility of witnesses--in great detail. Yet the media ignore an essential issue: their own vulnerability to charges of sexual harassment. How can the media fulfill their obligation to investigate and report the truth about sexual harassment when they live in a glass house?

A number of sexual-harassment charges against media organizations have surfaced in the wake of the hearings, suggesting that the media's glass house has very thin walls. For example, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Feder reported that one of Chicago's female radio personalities once quit her job because of sexual harassment. At a conference, she warned students that "radio stations foster an unusual 'camaraderie' among staff members that can lead to harassment."

Similarly, the Columbia Journalism Review included a letter to the editor that detailed one reporter's experience of consistent and repeated harassment at a variety of media organizations throughout the country.

As a result of ignoring sexual harassment, magazines and newspapers are at great risk of becoming the story rather than the storyteller. Media enterprises must move quickly to adopt and implement thorough, up-to-date sexual-harassment policies. The most important mission of a sexual-harassment policy is to prevent sexual harassment before it occurs, thus fostering a productive environment in which creative and efficient work can be done.

Commit to prevention

As a starting point, publishers should establish their commitment to preventing sexual harassment in a clear, strongly worded statement that goes beyond generalities. All employees--from the executive suite to the maintenance department--must easily be able to understand the policy, its rules and procedures. To ensure genuine understanding, a sexual-harassment policy must clearly articulate what constitutes harassment and provide examples of physical and verbal behavior, as well as hostile working conditions. …

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