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Ponnada: Harassment in the newsroom

BY SRI PONNADA | DECEMBER 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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When one of my friends told me that she wanted to work as a news correspondent in war zones, I thought of how dangerous that would be and warned her to consider her safety. However, a new study conducted by the International News Safety Institute and the International Women’s Media Foundation indicates that working in a regular newsroom may not be a hospitable alternative — at least for women.

According to a survey of almost 1,000 people working in the media, most of whom are female journalists around the world, 64 percent said that they had been harassed in the workplace, primarily by their male bosses, supervisors, or coworkers.

The survey showed that the most common type of sexual harassment experienced by nearly 68 percent of respondents was “unwanted comments on dress and appearance.” A little more than 60 percent of respondents experienced “suggestive remarks or sounds,” and 57 percent of respondents experienced “jokes of a sexual nature.”

Not surprisingly, most of these instances of sexual harassment were not reported to an employer, the police, or any other authority.

As an aspiring journalist myself, I have to say that I am extremely disappointed by the results of this study. The newsrooms of the world are unfortunately not as progressive as I had hoped, at least when it comes to gender.

This study’s findings may be a result of a broader problem in journalism. The prevalence of hostile working environments for female journalists could partially be due to the lack of diversity in the media.

A study released earlier this year by Media Matters for America — a nonprofit research and information center dedicated to monitoring, analyzing, and correcting misinformation in the U.S. media — found that women make up just 38 percent of newsroom staffers.

That figure has not changed in 14 years. And what’s worse: this 38 percent figure is only four percentage points higher than the percentage of female news reporters 30 years ago. Women are also underrepresented in newsroom leadership positions — only 34.6 percent of newsroom supervisors in 2013 were female.

Other studies have shown that not only is there a lack of gender diversity in the media but a lack of ethnic diversity as well.

According to the annual census also released earlier this year by the American Society of News Editors, the percentage of ethnic minorities in American newsrooms has stayed still between 12 and 13 percent for over 10 years. Ethnic minorities make up 12.37 percent of newsrooms in 2013, and people of color make up only 10 percent of newsroom supervisors.

When there are so few women and people of color in leadership positions in the media, and so few of them in the media overall, how can the voices of these individuals be sufficiently represented? Furthermore, how can the news be unbiased in its representation on a given group of individuals, or a specific story?

In order to more accurately cover the state of this country — one in which women, and people of color are a huge part of the population — and to put an end to harassment there has to be more diversity in the newsroom.

And more importantly, if journalists are to maintain the quality of journalism and do their jobs well, it is important for their workplaces to be safe.


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