In the dimly lit newsroom, where headlines find their voice and stories come to life, a different kind of narrative is emerging – one that was cloaked in shadows for far too long. Here, where ink meets paper and cameras capture truth, a brave group of male colleagues are breaking a silence that has held them captive for years. They’re peeling back the layers of an industry known for uncovering the truth, but this time, it’s their truth that they unveil: a truth riddled with sexual harassment. One such brave soul is Sammy Muraya, working with the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), who has shared his story as a sexual assault survivor.
THE UNSETTLING BEGINNING
“When I embarked on my journey in broadcasting as an intern at KBC in the radio department, little did I know that I would encounter an unsettling situation. Our senior producer, a woman in her early forties, began making unwelcome advances towards us, a group of young interns with dreams of making it in the world of media.
One incident remains etched in my memory—a moment when she locked herself in a room with three of us, subjecting us to unwarranted and deeply uncomfortable physical advances. This situation was particularly distressing given her position of authority and the dangling promise of job opportunities. My dreams of becoming one of the pioneering voices in broadcasting suddenly felt clouded by her inappropriate actions. It was as if an insatiable desire drove her, leaving us to wonder whether her actions stemmed from personal dissatisfaction or a desperate thirst for attention from others.
During that time, the prospect of Metro FM, a new horizon in radio, shimmered, and my passion for sports burned brightly. I had meticulously planned a show and submitted my proposal, hoping to make my mark. Yet, I found myself declining to comply with her demands to secure the job I coveted. It was a heart-wrenching decision, as I held genuine respect for this woman, and I even had an acquaintanceship with her husband and child.
NAVIGATING THE SHADOWS
Avoidance became my defence mechanism. Whenever I spotted her in the corridors of KBC, I would strategically alter my course, attempting to steer clear of her. Even within the studio, where I had assignments, a palpable fear of encountering her paralyzed me. In her presence, I couldn’t read a script, record, or function effectively. It was a torment I endured in silence, a torment that seemed insurmountable at the time.
Time brings healing, and today, I can speak of that experience with relative ease. However, during those moments, it was an anguish I had to endure. Regrettably, I did not secure the job I desired at that time; she selected different individuals for those positions. But two to three years later, after a station revamp, I finally achieved my broadcasting dream and joined the Metro FM team.”
Breaking the Silence
The revelations of male colleagues like Sammy Mwangi have ignited a crucial conversation within the media industry. It’s a conversation that has long been overdue. These men are not isolated in their experiences, and their willingness to speak out is now paving the way for others to find their voices.
The Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) convened a Zoom meeting on September 5th to delve into the issue and explore strategies for creating a more supportive and collaborative media industry.
Patience Nyage, the Executive Director of AMWIK, addressed the meeting, highlighting the insidious nature of sexual harassment. She emphasized that sexual harassment isn’t confined to physical acts but can manifest through unwelcome comments, digital advances, or offensive jokes that create a hostile work environment.
“Sexual harassment is a type of harassment that involves the use of explicit or implicit sexual undertones unwelcomed in inappropriate promises of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. It can be physical, verbal or even both. In this digital era, it could also mean unwanted sexual comments and favours. On the other hand, it could also mean offensive jokes or comments that can create a hostile work environment.”
Sammy Muraya echoed her sentiments, underscoring that sexual harassment knows no boundaries and can infiltrate any workplace, including the media industry. He went on to urge his fellow men to start speaking out.
“Sexual harassment is an issue that can permeate any workplace, and the media industry is no exception. For us as men, opening up about the challenges we face or seeking support can be daunting, as we often fear being seen as vulnerable. However, it’s essential to recognize that vulnerability doesn’t equate to weakness. Sharing our experiences involving unwelcome advances, which leave us feeling uncomfortable and exposed, is paramount. By doing so, we empower ourselves with the knowledge needed to establish clear boundaries and emphasize the urgency of fostering a more respectful workplace culture.” He spoke
“These experiences are not isolated to a single media outlet; male colleagues are joining the conversation. As pioneers in many aspects of our field, our willingness to speak out can serve as a beacon of courage for other men facing similar situations in their workplaces.” He added
Patience Nyange went on further to explain that no one is immune to this problem.
“The voices speaking out against sexual harassment in the media industry are not limited to any particular age group or job title. Men from various backgrounds including reporters, editors, and producers are sharing their experiences. Their stories highlight that no one is immune to this problem.”
The Path to Change
Jane Godia, who has engaged in conversations about sexual harassment in newsrooms, stressed that the journey toward a more supportive and collaborative media industry starts with acknowledging the problem and taking assertive steps to address it.
“Sensitivity training, alongside open dialogues, is pivotal in fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity in workplaces. The initial response to any form of harassment should be a firm “no.” Organizations like AMWIK and JHR are working tirelessly to raise awareness and empower individuals to assert themselves resolutely, irrespective of their gender.”
“Silence perpetuates the problem, but speaking out can bring about change”, said Macharia Gaitho, an editor who shared his experience. “By speaking out, we hope to create an environment where everyone can thrive professionally without fear of harassment.”
He urged media industry leaders to review their internal policies and take concrete steps to address sexual harassment.
“Every workplace must prioritize these issues, and media organizations should adopt unified policies and ensure that existing standards are met.”
“Those already having policies in place should ensure they adhere to the established standards. Furthermore, these policies should be widely disseminated within the organization, ensuring that every individual is aware of their existence and understands that they serve as safeguards rather than constraints.” He added
As these brave voices break the silence, they illuminate a path toward a more inclusive and respectful media industry, where every individual can pursue their passion without the shadow of harassment looming overhead. Their stories serve as a beacon of courage for others, guiding them out of the darkness and into a brighter, more equitable future.
Article by Priscillah Kaigai, AMWIK Member