Sky News presenter Jacinta Tynan has spoken out about the media’s long-standing culture of workplace bullying, in the hope awareness will lead to change.
Tynan spoke to The Newsroom after we reported, in No Place for Harassment at Work, that sexual harassment is twice as prevalent in the media as in other industries.
One in five people aged 15 or over have been sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years according to the Australian Human Rights Commission report, Working without fear: Results of the sexual harassment national telephone survey 2012. In the media, however, that figure was found to be closer to one in two. Earlier this year, in the largest survey to date of female journalists in the Australian news media, Monash University found 57.3 per cent of female journalists experienced some form of sexual harassment, up from 51 per cent in a 1996 study.
“I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years and it’s the only industry I’ve ever worked in. You get a sense of what the norm is; you think that it’s that way everywhere,” she said.
“But then I would tell others about what it’s like – especially with one particular situation I went through – and they’re in shock and say it wouldn’t be tolerated at their work.
“So it’s like that saying, put the frog into water and boil the water slowly and it doesn’t notice; put the frog straight into boiling water and it will jump straight out.”
In a recent opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald, headlined The war at work, Tynan spoke of her experience with a former boss who regularly bullied her.
She wrote: “It wasn’t just the office dressing-downs, which became a frequent event, but the sideshow of unfounded set-ups: being given a day off, only to be reprimanded for not turning up, questioned over expenses and annual leave, copping a litany of accusations of being late (five minutes), being unfocused (funny that) and making personal calls at work (on Christmas Day). And my new colleagues kept their distance, no doubt feeling it was too risky to be associated with the bully’s latest target.”
Tynan said she wasn’t surprised bullying still existed in the media but she was surprised to see it getting worse.
“Are the stats higher because more people are standing up and identifying what bullying is? Ten or 15 years ago bullying wasn’t a term. Harassment was, but it’s different. People are starting to understand what is happening to them and are reporting it more,” she told The Newsroom.
“With me the gender thing didn’t come into it because I know that this man had bullied quite a few men, although the language he used wasn’t language he would use with men: like [he would say to me], ‘You think you’re so f—ing hot, you think you’re better than everyone else’.
“The whole thing is a blur to me. It was a while ago, and I’ve blocked a lot of it out. From memory it went on for about three months. I thought if I just put my head down and work hard I can prove to this guy that he has me wrong. But the bullying just got so intense, every day I went to work in I’d be called in and I just couldn’t take it, and I soon came to realise nothing I did was going to change the situation.”
When Tynan went to seek help, she was advised that the best thing she could do was remove herself from the situation.
“I went and saw a psychologist, who was actually paid for by the organisation, and he said, ‘Just so you know, you’re not the only person who has complained about this particular man. The only thing you can do is leave. They’re not going to change, it’s not about you, they’ve already made a decision, made up their mind about you.’
“So when I realised that I thought, ‘I’m young and I have a great career ahead of me so I’m walking away.’
“The HR department and the union told me that 21 other formal complaints had been made about this man but nothing was done. So often, people cover for the bully because of the nature of the bully, because everyone is afraid of them. And those who are in a higher position see the bully’s actions as ‘pulling people into line’ so they’re seen as a good operator.
“When I did walk away I know that people above the person addressed the staff and said, ‘We want you to known that if there are any more problems with this person do not come to us.’ They were basically warning they did not want to hear it.”
“In my case the bully knew what he was doing, but they don’t always. They see it as doing a good job, they just want to pull you into line. The bully target isn’t the meek under-performer. It is the strong person who’s a good worker, diligent, cordial and gets on well with everyone, and the reason is because people are threatened by that.”
On taking matters into your own hands, Tynan said that may not always be the best idea; sometimes you need to let go of your past and focus on your future.
“Everyone that I have spoken to who has gone through the court system said they wished they hadn’t done it,” she said.
“Bullying experts I spoke to said if you go take legal action it adds 10 years on average to the trauma, and even if you win, you don’t win. Try and find another avenue. Because at the end of it you come out psychologically battered. It’s a very complex and cruel system.
“I was at an age where I could get another job and I could get on with my life, I thought this is happening for a reason, I’m not meant to be in this job anymore. Don’t let the bully win, I’ve never looked back. I don’t know what that person is even up to now. I don’t carry anger.
“I just thought, you know what, you can live your life and you will get your karma and I feel bad for them that they feel the need to bully people.”
Tynan said although the media industry was “still stuck in a 1980s culture of dog eat dog” and there was a “sense of you’ve got to do it tough to make it” – that if you are passionate it is worth all the hard work.
“The media industry is amazing to work in; there are so many talented creative people,” she said.
“These are tough tough times for the industry. It’s evolving and changing, so there’s fear. So many people are losing their jobs, even after these past few months, even over this past year, and there is always someone after your position. Remember it is what you make of it. The industry is about communicating with people and sharing ideas so if you’re someone that is passionate about that, then go for it.
“The only you can do is be true to yourself, work hard and be good to other people. Respect and learn from your colleagues. Things will still go wrong but you can’t avoid that; it’s not your problem.” – Natasha Charlaff