Don Burke story reveals the pernicious culture of men protecting each other in the media

It was such a cliché. At the office Christmas party of the national TV show where I worked, I emerged from the loo out the back to find one of my bosses straddling the doorway, blocking my way and waiting to pounce.

I was shocked, not so much by his sexual harassment (that was de rigueur in the newsroom cultures of the day, the 1990s), as by the extent of his male entitlement and misogyny. At the time I was still breastfeeding my baby daughter, who was next door at the party with her dad and my colleagues.

This week’s revelations that TV’s darling of nearly 20 years, Don Burke of Burke’s Backyard fame, was allegedly a “psychotic bully”, a “misogynist” and a “sexual predator” who indecently assaulted, sexually harassed and bullied a string of female employees comes as no surprise to women in Australian media. According to last year’s Women in Media Report, nearly half of us have been abused, intimidated or harassed in our working lives.

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Image: Supplied

Once sexual assault allegations against Hollywood boss Harvey Weinstein exploded in the media, the open secret of male abuse of power over women was out. Social media was awash with #Metoo; in France, #BalanceTonPorc (“expose your pig”) flooded Twitter with stories of sexual harassment and assault.

New allegations appeared almost every day against other powerful men in various industries, including head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, political journalist Mark Halperin, editor at NPR Michael Oreske, Hollywood screenwriter and director James Toback, actors Ben Affleck and Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis CK, reinforcing the seeming incongruity of a self-described grabber of pussies, Donald Trump, being elected US president.

Peer-reviewed global literature clearly proves that men perpetrate violence against women when there is masculine dominance in society, when they identify with traditional masculinity and male privilege, believe in rigid gender roles, have weak support for gender equality, and hold negative attitudes towards women.

Our research at the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne and that of Women in Media indicates these norms are rampant in the media industry. Men almost exclusively own, run, and give voice to the industry. Murdoch’s News Corp, Fairfax, and APN own 92% of print media in Australia, with women owners being only 15%.

Men run nearly all of it, with only 17% of executives female, and new research shows women to be similarly underrepresented as editors (30.8%), specialist reporters (9.6%-30.2%), as experts (24.6%) and as authoritative sources (26.0%). Only 27% of AM and FM radio breakfast and drive programming hosts are female.

The rate of sexual harassment of women in media (48%) is more than twice that of other workplaces (22%), and far exceeds that of the rightly criticised rates in the Australian Defence Force, at 25% (according to the Human Rights Commission), and Victoria Police at 40%, yet has not been reported widely.

Up until now, the male-centric culture of media made it a non-story.

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