Entertainment Celebrity Harassment, assault and worse: Media veteran shares her harrowing experiences
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Harassment, assault and worse: Media veteran shares her harrowing experiences

Sexual harassment allegations against Don Burke brings back bad memories. Photo: Getty
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Finally, Australia has arrived at its very own Harvey Weinstein moment.

The allegations against Don Burke are just the tip of the iceberg.

Very soon, more high-profile personalities will find their names on the front page.

I know this because I’ve been part of that world for close to 45 years and I’ve witnessed and experienced harassment, sexual suggestiveness and even assault more times than I care to remember.

Sadly, my experiences are pretty typical of what many women in the television and media industry encountered.

And a warning: victims of sexual assault may find my story distressing.

As a sassy young reporter, I was sent to interview a much-loved British actor more than twice my age. We talked at a coffee table in a busy airport. He had his manager with him. I had a photographer with me.

Within minutes, the actor’s hand was up my mini skirt (in full view of everybody) and he was offering me a lollypop if I would lick his bald head.

I moved out of reach of his hand and carried on with the interview as if nothing happened. As we left the airport, neither the photographer nor I said anything about the incident.

I certainly didn’t think it was important enough to tell my boss about. It was just what I expected.

After all, a senior city official was always rubbing up against me so he could “cop a feel” when I attended council meetings as a reporter.

The same man also told me how he and a visiting British musician had a long chat about how I had “great tits”, “amazing legs” and how they would “like to take me to bed”.

Neither he nor I could see an issue with that conversation. In fact, I probably had a bit of a laugh about it. It was the way it was.

Nor did I tell a soul when a respected, married colleague – one of my journalism heroes in fact – forced me to have sex with him as if it was his right. He had manipulated me into a situation where sex was the only way out so I gave in. I wouldn’t kiss him though.

We faced each other over the boardroom table the following week as if nothing had happened. It was how things were.

And I knew instinctively I would not have been believed over a man of his stature. It just wasn’t worth the pain. 

And so it went on over the years. One incident followed another.

They became more infrequent as I progressed up the management pole and could create more appropriate workplaces for women and men.

I’m glad that coverage of Harvey Weinstein’s activities seems to have opened a festering sore and we can now speak out.

A few years ago, I decided I would confront my journalism hero with what he had done because I finally realised it wasn’t right.

I did my research and found he was dead. A slow, painful, early death and I was pleased by the manner in which he died. I felt like he got his comeuppance.

Recently, I asked Channel Nine CEO Hugh Marks a question at the Screen Forever conference about what his network had done to check their processes after the Weinstein story broke.

I knew it was only a matter of time before Australia had its own Weinstein and so did he.

“I’m sure there were problems 20 years ago, I’m sure there will be things come out in the public that will talk to those problems but where we are now is I feel we have an excellent culture, a very supportive culture, embracing, supporting diversity and all of those things,” he said.

He admitted that he couldn’t guarantee there would be nothing happening now but dismissed the “Harvey Weinstein stuff” as “Hollywood”.

“I mean that’s completely different to Australia,” Mr Marks said. “It’s not a business culture there, it’s one of individuals.”

After my experiences, I would beg to differ.

Watch this space.

UPDATE:  

After I wrote this piece, Hugh Marks, Channel 9’s CEO did announce a change to their procedures. They’ve set up a confidential telephone line with Converge International to enable Nine staff, contractors, sub-contractors, agents, consultants and temporary staff (past and present) to report current and past instances of bullying and harassment.  

In an email to staff, he is quoted as saying:

“As much as we might like to, sometimes we unfortunately cannot rewrite history. But we can and will take steps to ensure that former employees, perhaps with old grievances, are supported. So we have set up a unique phone line for them to call 1300 554 818 and will provide an independent counselling service to report instances of past behaviour they would like addressed. Former Nine employees with complaints simply provide their personal contact details and HR will follow up directly on a strictly confidential basis. The counselling will be provided at no cost to them and Nine will support the person to work through any issues that relate to their time at Nine.”

I think this is a terrific start by Channel 9 and recognition that, indeed, their procedures weren’t perfect. Of course they need to ensure the follow up is independent and appropriate action is taken against the perpetrators who have proven allegations against them.  

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