Geramm, Aji slams NUJ president's sexist remarks

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia's Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) and Indonesia's Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (Aji) have condemned attempts to suppress allegations of sexual harassment against female journalists by elected government officials in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Both groups pointed out that the issue has been ignored for a long time as it is considered not important or has been "normalised" as part of daily interactions between journalists and their news sources.

"According to a report issued by the Asian Correspondent, eight female journalists from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines had been victimised while doing their jobs as professional journalists.

The report quoted two Malaysian female journalists and an Indonesian female journalist, all three who shared similar experiences of receiving unwanted sexual advances that ranged from text messages, physical contacts, or seemingly more innocent dinner invitations.

"In one of the cases, the journalist had reported the incident to her editor, who had told her to 'capitalise' on the situation to get a bigger scoop of news coverage," both groups said in a statement.

Recognising that it is a common problem, the press freedom advocates called on concerned parties to condemn and reject any form of sexual harassment against all journalists in the region.

"Geramm and Aji believe that the voices of a few women journalists who are brave enough to share their stories mean the time has come for media houses to respond by setting an example on gender equality and respect.

"The blurred line of what constitutes sexual harassment by a source should be clearly drawn and to ensure that there are appropriate channels for such matters to be addressed."

They also 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.

The freedom of press proponents also demanded that all news sources – regardless of status – show respect towards journalists on duty.

The group 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.

The Geramm-Aji response came following the recent statement by the National Union of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ) president Mohd Taufek Razak who said that female journalists should not wear "too revealing or sexy" clothing and be mindful of their conduct.

He also said 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.

Mohd Taufek's statement has since earned brickbats among the journalism fraternity and women activists.