Sexual harassment of journalists a long-ignored issue, say Malaysia, Indonesia media advocacy groups

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Sexual harassment of journalists has been kept under wraps for such a long time that it is treated like a non-issue, according to press freedom advocates in Malaysia and Indonesia.

"The problem has been ignored for a long time as it is considered not an important issue or has been 'normalised' as part of daily interactions between journalists and their news sources," Kuala Lumpur-based media movement Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) and Jakarta-based Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) said in a statement on Wednesday (Jan 17).

On Monday (Jan 15), independent news portal Asian Correspondent reported that politicians had sexually harassed female journalists in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Two of the eight journalists featured in the report were Malaysians.

The groups said it believed that the voices of a few women journalists sharing their stories meant that it was time for media organisations to respond.

It also said that what constitutes sexual harassment should be clearly spelt out to ensure that there were appropriate channels for such matters to be addressed.

It suggested that media organisations and journalist groups educate their peers on what constitutes sexual harassment so they would know their rights and what they should do in such situations.

It also demanded that all news sources - regardless of status - show respect towards journalists on duty.

The groups added that the issue of sexual harassment should be addressed in a holistic manner.

"While we acknowledge the importance for journalists to build relationships and communication with politicians, such interactions must also be based on (the) principle of mutual respect," it said, adding that there was no excuse for such behaviour.

Recently, National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ) president Mohd Taufek Razak said that female journalists should not wear "too revealing or sexy" clothing and be mindful of their conduct.

He added that it was natural for men to be attracted to women and for women to be attracted to men they like, and it was the process that determines whether this devolves into sexual harassment.

His statement has since been condemned by women's activists and journalists for shifting the blame to the victim.