Following the recent deluge of sexual harassment allegations, the public’s attention has been fixated on Hollywood and Westminster. However, harassment is just as endemic in the media industry.
Last month, a group of journalists joined together to create The Second Source – an organisation that aims to tackle harassment in the journalism industry by raising awareness of the problem and informing people of their rights.
Speaking to Backbench, Megha Mohan, a BBC journalist and co-founder of The Second Source, said the idea was sparked by two events. Firstly, the allegations against Harvey Weinstein “shifted the focus on how women, especially women in journalism, and especially those on vulnerable contracts, thought about how these interactions with men had happened”.
Soon after the Weinstein scandal erupted, Rosamund Urwin, a journalist for The Evening Standard, and the main founder of The Second Source, spotted the medium post, ‘An Incomplete List of All the Men In The Media Who Have Wronged Me’, written by the freelancer Emily Reynolds. This powerful post spurred Urwin to reach out to female journalists from across the spectrum to start a conversation about harassment in the journalism industry.
“In the beginning it was just talking about stuff that we’d all shared but had never discussed with eachother. The idea to turn it into a resource network happened quickly after that.”
Weinstein hired private security agents to collect information on the women and journalists trying to expose allegations
Whilst most of the focus has been on British politicians and Hollywood moguls, sexual harassment is equally prevalent in the media. Like MPs’ staffers and actors and actresses, journalists can often find themselves in vulnerable positions because of the nature of their industry.
Indeed, the large number of vulnerable contracts in both broadcasting and print puts many journalists in a difficult position. Mohan explains that “There’s a power dynamic that’s been set in place already. Journalism is a unique industry – there’s no hours that are set, you work until the work is delivered, and it’s a high-demanding job which isn’t really that well-paid compared to others.”
With such a disparity in power in a multifaceted, demanding industry, sexual harassment can thrive. Mohan contends that “Sexual harassment is about power. It’s not about sex”.
Yet there are still many female journalists, particularly columnists, who reject this view. Indeed, one of Britain’s most famous columnists, Sarah Vine, has labelled the sexual harassment allegations as a ‘hysterical Westminster witch-hunt’, consisting of unsubstantiated allegations ‘simply made up by people bearing a grudge’.
Mohan touches upon this aspect of journalism, whereby women such as Vine have independent platforms within a male-dominated industry. “One of the best paid jobs in journalism, if you’re a woman, is to have a column tearing down other women. And that says a lot about our industry. All of this breeds an environment that allows abuse to take place.”
However, claims that sexual harassment scandals are part of a ‘witch-hunt’ have been made by more people than just Vine . Such comments have been echoed by the veteran Tory Sir Roger Gale, whilst only last week The Telegraph published a piece titled ‘This scandal shows that women are now on top. I pray they share power with men, not crush us’, and the infamous Peter Hitchens penned the piece ‘What will women gain from all this squawking about sex pests? A niqab’.
Reflecting on this, Mohan remarks that “A term like ‘witch-hunt’ has to be used because there isn’t a term for trying to target men, so they have to refer to a term that undermines women.
“But I find this conversation extremely problematic. How are people pretending that they don’t know the difference between consensual flirting and an abuse of power? These are intelligent people who are thought leaders in their industry, and if they’re pretending that they don’t understand something as basic as that, then there really is something wrong.
“All we’re saying is that anything non-consensual is problematic when it comes to the workplace. Once you’ve earned power later in your career, you should be mindful of the parameters of that power.”
With the two industries inextricably linked, politicians such as Michael Fallon have been accused of harassing female journalists
So how do The Second Source hope to change this environment? Mohan outlines the organisation’s aims: “What we don’t want to do is name men. Everyone’s experience with harassment is really personal.
“We want the focus to be on helping young women, and young men in the industry – we’re aware that it’s not a female-only issue, gay men also experience harassment. We really want it to be about providing resources, a friendly ear, and mentoring for the next generation of journalists coming into our industry.”
Harrasment has been endemic in the media industry for decades, but with the help of organisations like The Second Source, the problematic power structures of the industry are being exposed. It will take time to eradicate harassment from the newsrooms and corridors of Westminster, but tackling vulnerable contracts and providing journalists with a resource network could mark the beginning of the end of harassment.
A Backbench report by Beth Fisher
The Second Source is an organisation set up to raise awareness of sexual harassment in the journalism industry and provide a network of resources and support. More information about the support they offer can be found on their website and social media pages.