Global media confronts its own Weinsteins

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Since dogged reporting by The New York Times and The New Yorker unearthed decades of sexual abuse and harassment by disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, a burgeoning scandal has reflected back on the world of journalism itself. Women have come forward with incriminating stories about powerful media figures like Mark Halperin, Leon Wieseltier, and Michael Oreskes—all of whom have lost their jobs as a result—and a “shitty men in media” list has circulated widely in US newsrooms.

While the Weinstein scandal began in America, its effect has spread far beyond the US—with the London police, for example, also investigating complaints against Weinstein. As the story continues to make headlines around the world, media organizations and women who work in them have been discussing their own workplace cultures and the Weinsteins in their own lives.

CJR analyzed coverage and spoke to journalists in 11 countries in a preliminary attempt to map the “Weinstein effect” in the global media industry. In some countries, powerful men in media have been named by women driven to speak out either by coverage of the Weinstein allegations or by one of the powerful social media campaigns—like #MeToo—that followed it. In many other countries, that hasn’t happened—even if the hundreds of accusations and discussions about what people already knew have given new urgency to private conversations about abuse and harassment.

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Television and radio host and producer Eric Salvail has “stepped away” from his career after 11 men and women, 10 of them anonymous, came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct. Variety reports the accusations—which include persistent sexual propositions, touching, and Salvail exposing himself during work hours—span a 15-year period. In the wake of the allegations, Salvail has lost various endorsements, including advertisements with grocery chain Metro Inc, and his show, En mode Salvail, has been suspended. The Hollywood Reporter says Salvail’s production company was also affected after being sold to rival firm Media Ranch through a deal led by Salvail and Co’s general manager Vivianne Morin, in a bid to salvage jobs and many of its shows. Morin told THR once the merger deal is completed, Salvail will no longer have “financial, management or operational ties” to the company.

Former journalist, author, and intellectual Michel Venne has been accused by author and activist Léa Clermont-Dion of abusing her while she was a minor interning at Institut du Nouveau Monde, an organization Venne founded which aims to increase citizen participation in democracy. An old colleague from Venne’s journalism days at French-language newspaper Le Devoir, Lise Payette, admitted she talked Clermont-Dion out of going public in 2015.

The hashtag #MoiAussi, which spread following the Weinstein allegations, has prompted many Francophone residents in the province of Quebec to tell their stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media, Globe and Mail features writer Robert Everett-Green tells CJR.  

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Sweden:

TV and radio personality Cissi Wallin named Fredrik Virtanen, one of the country’s best known opinion writers, as the man who drugged and raped her after a party in 2006. Wallin said on Instagram that #MeToo inspired her to reveal Virtanen’s identity for the first time—she didn’t name him when she first went public with the incident in 2011. Since Wallin’s post, the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper reported that 12 other women allege abuse or harassment against Virtanen. Virtanen’s tabloid, Aftonbladet, announced on Sunday that it’s dropping him from the editorial page.

Well-known TV4 presenter Martin Timell was suspended pending an inquiry into allegations of a range of abusive behaviors toward women, from sexual assault to crude jokes and angry outbursts. The network also pulled his upcoming shows. And Swedish public television presenter Lasse Kronér is facing a preliminary investigation over inappropriate text messages, while an unnamed senior manager at the same network has been told to stay home while it looks into a number of accusations of sexual harassment against him.

According to Christian Christensen, a Guardian contributor and journalism professor at Stockholm University, the #MeToo campaign set off a debate within Swedish media—not just about its treatment of women, but its reporting standards, too. “Sweden has its own peculiarities: It’s a small country, with a fairly insular, elite, Stockholm-centered group of journalists who all know each other,” says Christensen. “When you combine that with the fact Sweden has very careful rules and procedures about naming people [accused of wrongdoing], it became a very internal debate about the role of journalism in policing itself.”

 

The UK:

In mid-October, an anonymous Facebook poster accused Sam Kriss, a frequent contributor to Vice and The Atlantic, of forcing himself on her after trying to get her drunk. Vice swiftly confirmed to BuzzFeed that it wouldn’t commission future posts from Kriss. Two days later, GQ announced it would sever its ties with Rupert Myers, also a freelance journalist, after a number of women, starting with journalist and author Kate Leaver, publicly accused him of behavior similar to Kriss’s.

Prominent female journalists in the UK last week compiled and circulated their own version of the “shitty men in media” list via WhatsApp—it’s said to contain the names of very high-profile media figures. The Sunday Times reported that senior women at the BBC are having similar internal conversations about a number of men at the network, which has since suspended radio sports presenter George Riley after allegations of groping surfaced.

Despite that, the British media hasn’t kept a public spotlight on itself, pivoting instead to focus on politicians accused of similar behavior. Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman says there’s a mistaken feeling in the media business that “we’ve fixed it. Those are the bad apples, we’re done now.” “It’s frustrating, because you only have to look at the British tabloids to see how crassly women are treated,” Freeman says. “When I first started in the 2000s, there were legendary stories about how [tabloid] editors treated women. But no one seems to be making that connection.”

 

France:

In France, journalist Carol Galand inspired public demonstrations in several major French cities, saying she wanted to turn indignation on social media into a more physical movement. France’s answer to #MeToo is #BalanceTonPorc, or “squeal on your pig”—which went viral after it was first used by New York-based media and tech journalist Sandra Muller.

Muller tells CJR that many French journalists have messaged her privately to share their stories of workplace harassment, and that reporters sent to interview her about her hashtag have detailed similar experiences, too. Some of the men they’ve named are notorious for inappropriate behavior, she says, while others were unknown to her.

On Tuesday, BFMTV journalist Anne Saurat-Dubois accused the former editorial director of France 2 television, Eric Monier, of sexual harassment. She made the allegation in an interview with BuzzFeed France, which spoke to 13 other journalists with allegations about Monier.

 

Germany:

Pre-Weinstein conversations about media sexism in Germany—sparked most recently in 2013 after journalist Laura Himmelreich accused a prominent politician of touching her inappropriately on the campaign trail—haven’t been reignited with much force in the wake of Weinstein. Carla Bleiker, a reporter with public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, says that while female journalists are trading stories behind closed doors, she doesn’t think any of them will be made public, due in part to stringent privacy laws that make it almost impossible to name culprits who haven’t been criminally convicted.

In January, Der Spiegel reported that an employee at influential tabloid Bild had lodged a sexual harassment complaint against publisher Kai Diekmann. Diekmann stepped down around the same time, but Bild denied that had anything to do with the harassment complaint. An internal investigation and a German court both concluded there was insufficient evidence for the case to proceed, and it was swiftly dropped.

Other powerful men in the German media have so far escaped similar public scrutiny. “It’s completely infuriating that we haven’t really had the number of allegations against top-level media officials with the same frequency that they’ve happened in the US,” Bleiker says.

 

Pakistan:

English-language newspaper Dawn anonymously interviewed women working in media in Pakistan, who recounted stories covering everything from sexual assault by members of the public while out reporting, to unwanted workplace advances. But none of the culprits were named.

“With Harvey Weinstein at least there was a downfall of the perpetrator. Over here, there hasn’t been that Shakespearean drop from the sky, there hasn’t been a major editor who’s been exposed,” a former female journalist, who didn’t want to be identified, tells CJR. “It’s good in that it has a spiraling-on effect, so we know the extent of how bad it is. But there isn’t anybody we can point fingers to.”

Earlier this year, journalist Zubaria Jan published on her blog WhatsApp messages that she alleged showed workplace harassment by Salman Masood, a Pakistan-based writer for The New York Times who is also an editor at English-language daily The Nation. Masood denied that he sent the messages and is still working for both publications.

 

Singapore:

The New Paper reports Mediacorp has dismissed an unnamed employee after Channel NewsAsia producer Juwon Park posted on social media about how a male cameraman referred to a part of her body as the reason why she could not be a presenter.

After she also made a formal complaint to the company, five other producers came forward to share similar experiences, which the company is investigating. Park, who is from South Korea, says when this story broke, Mediacorp’s first reaction was to emphasize there had been no past complaints against the person accused of misconduct. “I was upset to hear that the culprits who’ve harassed me also had harassed other female producers,” Park tells CJR in an email. “Those predators could’ve been stopped if the company had paid closer attention to our work environment.”

Park says she was repeatedly discouraged from going to HR for her sexist treatment. She eventually did, but experienced online bullying and victim-blaming in and outside of the office for going public with her story.

“We assume that journalists (or people in the media industry) are well aware of the professional boundaries because sexual harassment cases are what we often report on,” she says. “However, this incident made me realize that we shouldn’t solely rely on our own common senses when it comes to tackling sexual harassments at work. There should be a very clear guideline on what’s not appropriate at work and the procedure for reporting the grievances. And of course, there should be regular trainings for employees.”

 

Israel, Japan, Italy, South Africa, and elsewhere:

In other countries where Weinstein has reignited a broader societal debate on the treatment of women, female journalists say it hasn’t been a watershed moment in their own industry.

In some countries that’s because the dam burst long before the Weinstein story broke. Israel’s “Weinstein moment,” for example, came when sitting Israeli President Moshe Katsav resigned in the wake of rape and sexual assault allegations in 2007 (he was jailed in 2011). Since then, a handful of powerful media figures have lost their jobs over mistreatment of women. In 2015, Yinon Magal resigned his seat in the Israeli parliament after four women accused him of harassment and assault dating back to his days as the editor of Walla News. And last year, influential author and columnist Ari Shavit left Haaretz after admitting to making unwanted sexual advances on female journalists.

“[Katsav’s fall from grace] was the tipping point where you did see it taken more seriously, and you did see powerful figures brought down,” says Amy Spiro, a reporter at The Jerusalem Post. “It’s never easy [for women to come forward], and it’s far from a done deal. But that has given women the power to think ‘I will be taken seriously, I won’t just be brushed off, I won’t just be ignored.’”

In Japan, too, a prominent conversation about the treatment of women in media has been brewing since before the Weinstein revelations. Freelance journalist Shiori Ito first made public allegations of sexual assault against broadcast journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi in May. They’ve gained momentum since the Weinstein case. Ito published a book about her experience, Black Box, last week, fully revealing her identity for the first time.

In many other countries, however, accountability for sexual misconduct and abusive behavior remains an elusive and distant objective. In Italy, for example, an overtly misogynistic environment in some parts of the media is a serious impediment to female journalists speaking out against media misogyny and harassment. Claudia Torrisi, a freelancer for Italian Vice, recently interviewed a journalist who wrote a book about sexual harassment in the media back in 2015. “She told me that when the book was out lots of female journalists sent her emails trying to guess who the editor in chief who harassed her was, giving names of bosses with the same habits,” says Torrisi. “None of these stories ever came out.”

In South Africa, freelancer Shandukani Mulaudzi is similarly pessimistic. “We’ve been having these conversations for years and nothing comes of it,” she says. Mulaudzi spoke to female colleagues last week about powerful media figures known in the industry for their behavior toward women. “I said ‘guys, this is the opportune time to name and shame these people because this is happening across the world.’ And people were like, ‘yeah, but at what cost? Nothing happens to these guys.’”

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Jon Allsop and Karen K. Ho are CJR Delacorte fellows.