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Gender Based Violence in the news room gives interns a raw deal

Written by Melkizedeck Karol

While journalists are busy reporting on gender based violence in the society, they consciously or unconsciously forget that they are also human beings and thus they can as well be victims or perpetrators of GBV within and outside the media.

 As for the interns who work in the news room, they know it all.

Pauline Boniphace who recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism at the University of Dar es Salaam has done internship in two different newsrooms. She did the internship in one of the popular newspapers (which she prefers to remain unknown) and describes her internship at the media house as "terrible".She says: "The newsroom is like a cell where nobody would want to go."

She expresses concerns over sexual harassment directed at the interns who tend to feel "very uncomfortable and vulnerable" in the newsroom."We were four female interns and every one of us was subjected to sexual harassment in various ways," says Boniphace.

Some of the acts they had to persevere include lewd messages, verbal abuse, physical touching or unwelcome comments on behaviour or dress.

"These are seen as less severe acts but they are embarrassing," notes Boniphace.

Such kind of acts affects one psychologically. "It's somewhat bewildering to recall at the time you wake up in the morning that this is what awaits you at the office," says Boniphace.

As for the interns, the issue does not necessarily start in the newsroom as Noelia Justine, a student at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SCMC) puts it: "When you send your applications they will always have your contacts, they will start calling you unnecessarily and try to get near to you, if you don't show some cooperation, you are likely to miss the internship."

Regarding how such acts are done, Elizabeth Michael, a student at the Uduzugwa Mountain College in Moshi confesses that she faced sexual harassment during one of her internships in a newsroom. "Men were unnecessarily sexist, they would wait for you to walk before them, send you to do something for them that they may see you at the back and laugh," Michael explains.


In the context of a workplace, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), sexual harassment is an unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of men and women at work. This can include unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct. Thus, a range of behaviour may be considered to constitute sexual harassment.

Issues around gender based violence in the workplace are not only reported in Tanzania but also in other countries. Last year in the results of the sexual harassment national telephone survey 2012 in Australia as released by the Australian Human Rights Commission noted that one in five people aged 15 and above have been sexually harassed in the workplace over the past five years.

The report echoes findings of a survey published earlier this year by Monash University in Australia. The research looked at working conditions, job segregation, recruitment, promotion and sexual harassment and found that 57.3 per cent of female journalists experienced some form of sexual harassment. This is more than twice the rate found in the general workforce.

Studies conducted by Media Council of Tanzania have indicated that within the last decade, more women in Tanzania have entered the media work force. In the light of the surging number of women in the media, their vulnerability to harassment is also likely to increase.

According to Article 22 of SADC Gender Protocol, Tanzania being a member of Southern Africa Development Co-operation (SADC) is expected by 2015 to enact legislative provisions, adopt and implement policies, strategies and programmes which define and prohibit sexual harassment in all spheres, as well as provide deterrent sanctions for perpetrators of sexual harassment. In the light of the Article, the provisions or policies shall be applied to each individual provided that he or she is a human being. In this case, the interns and journalists should be protected.

Regarding GBV toward interns, Godlisten Malisa who is the former President of St. Augustine University Students' Government says such acts are persistent and that interns suffer not only physically but also psychologically.

"Male-dominated newsrooms leave interns with a bad impression of the industry which in turn makes them switch career paths to public relations," notes Malisa.


Lucy Ngowi concurs with the idea that sexual harassment in the news room remains a threat. With her experience as a journalist in many new rooms, she sees that many of the young female interns are being sexually harassed and taken advantage of.

"It's truly disgusting that acts like these occur daily, as interns are not able to do what they come for but rather suffer and go back with nothing new learned," explains Ngowi.

Another female correspondent (name withheld) who has worked in more than five newspapers says she has witnessed many disputes regarding sexual harassment not only involving employed journalists but also interns. She notes that such issues should be addressed through a formal process.


However, the question remains: "How do the interns deal with such a situation?" After the four interns were mistreated for refusing to cooperate, "we tried to report to the top official who tried to warn everyone in the newsroom and we were really happy," explains Boniphace.

As if things were not enough, things blew out of proportion when the top official himself did what he warned his staff against. Sometimes it becomes hard for the interns to pursue justice. As Boniphace puts it: "When someone is put in a position where he or she feels uncomfortable yet no one does anything, this is more of a tragedy."

Regarding how interns can handle such situations, Peter Orwa, a long journalist and an editor warns the interns of entertaining these kinds of individuals by sticking to their mission of being in the newsroom. He describes interns who entertain such acts as "reckless" of their own respect.

A senior freelance journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, said he could not believe workplace harassment especially in the newsroom could possibly be worse now than it was in the past and even extend to the interns.

In his part, Dr Ayoub Rioba describes the behaviour as "pathetic" which should not be entertained.

Rioba who works as a lecturer at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Dar es Salaam notes that the issue requires purposeful research to establish the extent of the problem.

In December 2011, female journalists working in the media in Southern Africa called for an end to all forms of sexual harassment in newsrooms appealing to media owners to formulate policies that provide a mechanism to address and deal with such forms of gender based violence. However, over a year since their call, gender based violence in the media continues.

The meeting involved women journalists and GEMSA country coordinators from Swaziland, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe Mozambique and Namibia to debate challenges facing female media practitioners in the region.


This article was originally published in the Kenyan Woman Issue 46 


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