Tracey Spicer is not the only female journalist to be harassed in the media workplace.
The report echoes findings of a survey published earlier this year by a Monash University researcher. In the largest survey to date of female journalists in the Australian news media, Dr Louis North surveyed 577 female journalists working across all media platforms in metropolitan, regional, rural and suburban news media organisations.
He looked at working conditions, job segregation, recruitment, promotion and sexual harassment and found 57.3 per cent of female journalists experienced some form of sexual harassment (up from 51 per cent in a 1996 study). This is more than twice the rate found in the general workforce.
The survey found that 67 per cent of people thought men and women were not equally represented at senior or decision-making levels in newsrooms.
Australian journalist and media personality, Tracey Spicer, made headlines in December 2006 when she launched a case against Channel 10 for discrimination, on the grounds of sex, gender and parental status, over her dismissal six weeks after returning from maternity leave.
Spicer claims that sexism in the media is all too present, and there is no excuse for the lack of women in senior positions in the industry.
“The excuse that was given to me all those years ago when I was just out of university was: ‘Oh well, we don’t have enough experienced women in the industry’.
“You can’t use that excuse any more. There are loads of experienced women my age and 10 or 20 years older who simply don’t get a guernsey.”
Spicer caused uproar among the media when she wrote her impassioned letter, “Dear Mr Sexist” on The Hoopla this month.
“I thought, I’m sick of being treated like this, I’m going to write a letter on behalf of all the women in the industry who have been through what I’ve been through.
“At the time you kind of laugh along and think, ‘Oh well they’re just joking’, and then over the years you think, ‘No… this is actually endemic bullying and sexism and it has to be labelled for what it is’.”
Spicer believes the careers of female presenters will only last as long as their looks do.
“There are still plenty of men who are allowed to be there in their later years but you could count the older women on Australian TV on your fingers and all of them have got to look 20 years younger than they really are.”
But Spicer is not the only woman to call out the media for what she believes is inappropriate behaviour. Earlier this year Sasha Burden, a Melbourne University student intern at the Herald Sun newspaper, published a story for the university’s magazine, Farrago. She described her time at the Herald Sun as “horrific” and said the editors were ”heteronormative”.
”Throughout the week, I was consistently subjected to patronising attitudes, being referred to as ‘Little Bud’, ‘Champ’ and ‘Kidlet’. Men were also continuously and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator (sic) before them,” she wrote.
Ms Burden claimed the stories she was given to write were offensive and “absurd”.
”On the seventh day, I was asked to write a story about pigs being used to test breast augmentation in a ‘humorous’ tone,” she said.
“I found the proposition absurd and informed my superior that I felt the story was essentially government-funded animal cruelty. His response: ‘You don’t mind if I buxom bacon it up? It’s worth it just so we can use the phrase ‘perky porkers’. The story did not end up going to print.”
The intern attracted praise and criticism, with her article retweeted on twitter, particularly in media circles, under the hashtags #huntern and #interngate. Herald Sun editor-in-chief Phil Gardner wrote a letter in response to the intern’s article, pointing out some ethical concerns of his own.
”It is ironic that Ms Burden criticises the supposed bias of Herald Sun reporters and lack of balance in Herald Sun reports, yet at no stage in the drafting of her Farrago article did Ms Burden offer [The Herald and Weekly Times] a right of reply to any of the criticisms raised,” Mr Gardner wrote.
”We would have liked the opportunity to address her concerns while she was here but at no time during her two-week internship did she raise … any issues or concerns relating to the nature and the people and processes [to which] she was exposed.”
The Newsroom spoke to Kacey Riley, 22, from Surry Hills, a journalism intern whose experience at her local paper forced her to switch career paths to Public Relations.
She said while it started off well the overall behaviour of the male-dominated newsroom left her with a bad impression of the industry.
“I did my internship at my local newspaper, and I was really excited about it because I dorkily read the paper every week since I was like nine,” she said.
“It was a really friendly environment; everyone was always laughing and joking around. It was mostly guys, which I never really thought too much about. Maybe I should have, I don’t know.”
But Ms Riley said by the end of the first week she was feeling “really uncomfortable”.
“The guys made a lot of jokes that were in a sexist sort of nature,” she said.
“When they would send an intern out for a coffee run, they would always send me, and then make some remark about how I should really just go to the kitchen and make a coffee, because that’s where a woman should be.
“But they would always laugh it off afterwards and say they were just kidding.
“These sort of jokes continued to happen and I started to feel like if I didn’t go in with my makeup done perfectly then they would ask me why I didn’t look ‘too crash hot’ today.”
Ms Riley said she cut short her month-long internship by one week because she felt daily terror about going into the newsroom.
“At first I didn’t want to say anything because they were so lighthearted and they were just kidding around,” she said.
“I didn’t want to be the new intern who was causing a fuss over nothing. I felt like I should just get over it because they were just being boys. But it got to the point that I was so nervous to go in to work that I would wake up and cry like three times a night.”
A senior freelance journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Newsroom she could not believe workplace harassment could possibly be worse now than it was in 1996.
“I was working as a young reporter in newspapers in the 90s and it was a blokey, boozy, politically incorrect culture,” she said.
“It was initially shocking but I soon learned there was no point fighting against it. You just had to accept this was a long-standing culture and one that many embraced.
“In the 90s newsrooms you were either one of the boys, laughing and boozing along with them, or you remained professionally detached. But either way, if you wanted to do your job and get ahead you wouldn’t make waves.”
The female journalist, now aged in her 40s, said she had only one experience of unwelcome sexual advances and she addressed this through a formal process, which saw it end immediately. However, she always felt her male colleagues thought she had “over-reacted”.
“I never saw any serious workplace harassment – it was more of things like inappropriate pictures posted on desks and walls, sexually inappropriate comments about the subjects of stories, sexual innuendo, ‘black humour’ about news incidents and obscene language – but to be honest, sometimes the women were just as guilty of it as the men,” she said.
“I think as we see a new generation of journalists moving into senior positions, particularly women, and a higher level of professionalism, this culture will change. Or at least I hope it will.
“Until then I think it is hard for people to work in newsrooms who are vocal feminists, sensitive to coarse language and crude behaviour or who have thin skin.”
In the interest of balance, The Newsroom contacted four male journalists to discuss the issue. None wished to comment. – Natasha Charlaff