Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Sexual harrassment outside
A female TV reporter interviews a vendor at EKO City Farmers Market in Lagos, Nigeria, on July 26, 2020, during the COVID crisis. Working as a female journalist on the African continent is not easy, however, with incidents of sexual harassment both inside and outside news rooms on the rise [Olukayode Jaiyeola/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

Sexual harassment in African newsrooms is a scourge on journalism

Well over half of women journalists in Africa have been subjected to sexual harassment, abuse or victimisation in news rooms. It’s time to crack down


In mid-November, I asked two dozen of my female peers in news organisations across sub-Saharan Africa what their greatest challenge working in the newsroom was. About 90 percent told me it was sexual harassment from male colleagues. 

In fact, everyone who said she had experienced sexual harassment also mentioned being harassed by more than one man and that there were other women in the newsroom who had similar experiences. "Where I work, sexual harassment has become a culture and everyone expects that a man should be able to touch a woman he's attracted to whether or not it is appropriate," a 23-year-old Nigerian journalist said of the situation at her place of work.

A 25-year-old Kenyan female journalist who only recently joined a newspaper organisation spoke of a similar culture in the newsroom: "The men are fond of sexually harassing women verbally in a way that keeps us so uncomfortable, yet they laugh about it and make it seem like it is normal."

The issue of sexual harassment in newsrooms in Africa is something that's not often talked about. Yet it's huge and even growing with few or no checks. The problem is made worse by the fact that there has been a lack of credible data and research to guide interventions.

In 2020, Women in News, a global organisation focused on gender equality, carried out a survey on sexual harrassment in the media that was completed by 584 participants in eight sub-Saharan Africa countries and conducted 32 in-depth interviews with managers and executives. Its findings showed that more than half of women had experienced verbal harassment while 38 percent experienced physical harassment, with the perpetrators being fellow employees (38 percent), direct supervisors (22 percent) and external news sources (17 percent). Nearly half of participants reported witnessing sexual harassment, with some stating that they had seen five or more incidents. 

Truth be told, sexual harrassment isn't just peculiar to newsrooms in Africa, it's a global problem. In fact, a 2013 study by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) found that almost two-thirds of the female journalists polled had been sexually harassed or abused (including verbal abuse, intimidation and physical violence) on the job and most victims never discussed what happened.

But a lot has unfolded elsewhere in the world since the IWMF report was published nine years ago, with many victims emboldened to report sexual harassment and abuse especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

In the United States, a number of men in leadership positions at prominent news outlets have fallen in the last five years. In the UK, the BBC announced it was investigating more than two dozen sexual harassment claims after corporation leaders encouraged employees to come forward in the aftermath of the Weinstein scandal. More recently, a former Al Jazeera presenter was dismissed for sexual harassment after just one month in a new TV job in New Zealand. 

While this sort of discrimination, abuse and violence takes place against women journalists across the globe, however, the problem of sexual harassment within African news rooms must also be addressed urgently.

Despite the psychological and mental trauma sexual harassment brings, survivors in Africa are hardly encouraged to step forward. To make matters worse, news organisations are failing to make the ending of sexual harassment in news rooms a top priority.

Sexual harassment thrives in media organisations across the continent because of a lack of tough policies in place to stop it from happening. Here in Nigeria, where I live and work, few media houses have a dedicated anti-sexual harassment policy. 

I asked the heads of five news organisations in the country if they had any and only one responded in the affirmative. None of the 15 journalists from 10 media organisations I spoke with in Nigeria said they had ever heard of an anti-sexual harassment policy in their organisation. In the Women in News sexual harassment survey, only 53 percent of participants said they were aware of the policy at their workplace. And even fewer - 17 percent - were aware of what was contained in the policy if there was one. 

Another reason that survivors don't often report their experiences, as many victims have told me, is that they fear it could harm their reputation and impact negatively on their job. Many worry that speaking out could lead to retribution or they could experience further trauma if they come forward.

Furthermore, news organisations are dominated by male executives and this can sometimes be a problem for women who suffer sexual harassment. In Nigeria, for example, the vast majority of chief executives of newspaper organisations are men. Many survivors have said they would feel more comfortable reporting sexual harassment if their bosses were women.

To deal with this problem, news organisations must come up with policies that clearly and strongly act against perpetrators of sexual harassment. These policies must extensively define sexual harassment and state safe ways of reporting the issue. They must also outline how the issue will be addressed after complaints are made and what punishments will be handed to the perpetrators. There is a need for staff in newsrooms to receive regular training and for survivors to receive all the support they need without stigma or shame. Even more important - women must be trusted to lead news organisations.

Female journalists themselves have a role to play. They must ensure that they check out sexual harassment guidelines at their workplace and encourage their female colleagues to do the same. If their organisations have no system in place for reporting sexual harassment, they need to lobby their bosses to create one. Importantly, they need to seek women's rights advocates and legal advisors who will help fight their cause should the need arise.

Philip Obaji Jr is an investigative journalist based in Nigeria


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera Journalism Review’s editorial stance


More Articles

Journalism in chains in Cameroon

Investigative journalists in Cameroon sometimes use treacherous means to navigate the numerous challenges that hamper the practice of their profession: the absence of the Freedom of Information Act, the criminalisation of press offenses, and the scare of the overly-broad anti-terrorism law.

Nalova Akua
Nalova Akua Published on: 12 Apr, 2024
The Perils of Journalism and the Rise of Citizen Media in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia's media landscape is grim, with low rankings for internet and press freedom across the region. While citizen journalism has risen to fill the gaps, journalists - both professional and citizen - face significant risks due to government crackdowns and the collusion between tech companies and authorities to enable censorship and surveillance.

AJR Contributor Published on: 6 Apr, 2024
Orientalism, Imperialism and The Western Coverage of Palestine

Western mainstream media biases and defence of the Israeli narrative are connected to orientalism, racism, and imperialism, serving the interests of Western ruling political and economic elites. However, it is being challenged by global movements aiming to shed light on the realities of the conflict and express solidarity with the Palestinian population.

Joseph Daher
Joseph Daher Published on: 1 Apr, 2024
Ethical Dilemmas of Photo Editing in Media: Lessons from Kate Middleton’s Photo Controversy

Photoshop—an intelligent digital tool celebrated for enhancing the visual appearance of photographs—is a double-edged sword. While it has the power to transform and refine images, it also skillfully blurs the line between reality and fiction, challenging the legitimacy of journalistic integrity and the credibility of news media.

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 26 Mar, 2024
Breaking Barriers: The Rise of Citizen Journalists in India's Fight for Media Inclusion

Grassroots journalists from marginalized communities in India, including Dalits and Muslims, are challenging mainstream media narratives and bringing attention to underreported issues through digital outlets like The Mooknayak.

Hanan Zaffa
Hanan Zaffar, Jyoti Thakur Published on: 3 Mar, 2024
Why Journalists are Speaking out Against Western Media Bias in Reporting on Israel-Palestine

Over 1500 journalists from various US news organizations have signed an open letter criticizing the Western media's coverage of Israel's actions against Palestinians. They accuse newsrooms of dehumanizing rhetoric, bias, and the use of inflammatory language that reinforces stereotypes, lack of context, misinformation, biased language, and the focus on certain perspectives while diminishing others. They call for more accurate and critical coverage, the use of well-defined terms like "apartheid" and "ethnic cleansing," and the inclusion of Palestinian voices in reporting.

Belle de Jong journalist
Belle de Jong Published on: 26 Feb, 2024
Silenced Voices and Digital Resilience: The Case of Quds Network

Unrecognized journalists in conflict zones face serious risks to their safety and lack of support. The Quds Network, a Palestinian media outlet, has been targeted and censored, but they continue to report on the ground in Gaza. Recognition and support for independent journalists are crucial.

Yousef Abu Watfe يوسف أبو وطفة
Yousef Abu Watfeh Published on: 21 Feb, 2024
Artificial Intelligence's Potentials and Challenges in the African Media Landscape

How has the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence impacted newsroom operations, job security and regulation in the African media landscape? And how are journalists in Africa adapting to these changes?

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 18 Feb, 2024
Media Monopoly in Brazil: How Dominant Media Houses Control the Narrative and Stifle Criticism of Israel

An in-depth analysis exploring the concentration of media ownership in Brazil by large companies, and how this shapes public and political narratives, particularly by suppressing criticism of Israel.

Al Jazeera Logo
Rita Freire & Ahmad Al Zobi Published on: 1 Feb, 2024
The Perils of Unverified News: A Case of Nonexistent Flotillas

Can you hide one thousand ships in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea? I would say not. But some of my fellow journalists seem to believe in magic.  

Ilya U Topper Published on: 16 Jan, 2024
In the Courtroom and Beyond: Covering South Africa's Historic Legal Case Against Israel at The Hague

As South Africa takes on Israel at the International Court of Justice, the role of journalists in covering this landmark case becomes more crucial than ever. Their insights and reporting bring the complexities of international law to a global audience.

Hala Ahed
Hala Ahed Published on: 12 Jan, 2024
Did the NYTimes Manipulate the Sexual Violence Allegations of October 7?

An in-depth examination of the New York Times's investigation of alleged sexual assaults by Hamas during the Israeli war on Gaza, highlighting ethical concerns, and the impact of its reporting on the victims' families. It questions the journalistic integrity of the Times, especially in the context of Western media's portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A picture of the Al Jazeera Media Institute's logo, on a white background.
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Published on: 7 Jan, 2024
Is The New York Times Reproducing Allegations of 'Sexual Violence' to Downplay Israeli Crimes?

The New York Times' report on alleged sexual violence by Palestinian militants raises profound concerns about discrepancies in key testimonies and a biased reporting that aligns with Israeli narratives and downplays Israeli crimes in Gaza.

Mohammad Zeidan
Mohammad Zeidan Published on: 31 Dec, 2023
Embedded journalism: Striking a balance between access and impartiality in war zones

The ethical implications of embedded journalism, particularly in the Israeli invasion of Gaza, raise concerns about the compromise of balance and independence in war coverage.

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 19 Dec, 2023
Through a Mexican lens: Navigating the intricacies of reporting in Palestine

A Mexican journalist's journey through the complexities of reporting on Palestine and gives tips on how to manage this kind of coverage.

Témoris Grecko
Témoris Grecko Published on: 10 Dec, 2023
Echos of Israeli Discourse in Latin American Media on Gaza

Heavily influenced by US and Israeli diplomatic efforts, Latin American media predominantly aligns with and amplifies the Israeli perspective. This divergence between political actions and media representation highlights the complex dynamics shaping Latin American coverage of the Gaza conflict.

Rita Freire Published on: 23 Nov, 2023
Critique of German media's handling of Gaza Conflict

The German media's coverage of the Gaza conflict has been criticized for being biased, presenting a distorted view of the conflict, focusing only on the Israeli perspective, and downplaying the suffering of Palestinians. This biased reporting undermines the media's role as an objective source of information and fails to provide a balanced view of the conflict.

AJR Contributor Published on: 16 Nov, 2023
Colonial legacy of surveillance: hidden world of surveillance technology in the African continent

African nations’ expenditure on surveillance technology from China, Europe and the US is a direct threat to the media, democracy and freedom of speech, and an enduring legacy of colonial surveillance practices.

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 14 Nov, 2023
How the New York Times fuelled a crackdown on journalists in India

Vague reporting and a piece ‘laden with innuendo’ by the New York Times gave Indian authorities the excuse they needed to crack down on news website Newsclick

Meer Faisal
Meer Faisal Published on: 31 Oct, 2023
Journalists feel the pain, but the story of Gaza must be told  

People don’t always want to hear the historical context behind horrifying events, resorting even to censorship, but the media must be free to provide it

Aidan White Published on: 30 Oct, 2023
Queen Rania is absolutely right - Western media’s double standards on Gaza

Why does international media use loaded and dehumanising language about the Palestinians when reporting on the Israeli bombardment of 2.2 million people in Gaza?

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 27 Oct, 2023
'War propaganda' - Brazil’s media has abandoned journalistic standards over Gaza

Brazil’s mainstream media, in its unwavering support for Israel, is out of step with public and social media responses to the bombardment of Gaza

Bruno Lima Rocha Beaklini Published on: 25 Oct, 2023
‘Emotional truth’ is not a cover for fabricating stories

Comedians who engage with the news should not be free to ignore the rules of ethical journalism

Akanksha Singh Published on: 16 Oct, 2023
Get this straight, Western media: Palestinians aren’t sub-human

Dehumanisation of Palestinians is as central to Israel’s war strategy as the deadly missiles it wields

Andrew Mitrovica Published on: 10 Oct, 2023