Stuff's #MeToo media campaign promises care, but attracts critics

by Colin Peacock / 12 March, 2018

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Alison Mau on the cover of the Sunday Star Times launchng the #MeTooNZ campaign. Photo / RNZ

Inspired by #MeToo campaigns abroad, broadcaster Alison Mau and publisher Stuff are urging New Zealanders to blow the whistle on sexual assault and harassment at work.

What was described as the "worst kept secret" in Wellington’s legal circles was certainly news to the rest of the country when online outlet Newsroom revealed serious sexual misconduct at law firm Russell McVeagh last month. It's reported on several incidents involving several lawyers at the firm over a seven-year period. 

Dame Margaret Bazley will now review Russell McVeagh, the Law Society is looking at new ways of investigating complaints, and most law schools have withdrawn from the firm's internship and law clerk programmes and sponsorships have scrapped.

All that this was kicked off by the investigative journalism of Melanie Reid and Sasha Borissenko at Newsroom.  

Individual lawyers have also given the story more legs such as former litigation lawyer Olivia Wensley who went public last week with her own experience. Among her suggestions for fixing this was an anonymous tip-off service victims or witnesses could use to notify the Law Society.

The same day broadcaster and Sunday Star Times columnist Alison Mau announced a service where people can report direct to her and publisher Stuff.

Ms Mau said she was inspired and encouraged by a former a colleague in Australia - journalist Tracey Spicer - who kicked off an investigation into sexual abuse in the media and entertainment industry there last October.

By last Monday, Ms Mau said hundreds of women had been in touch with stories she described as "heartbreaking". 

Ms Mau told Mediawatch she will respond to every person who gets in touch before any individual's stories are passed on to journalists. 

"This is my gig and at the moment I am marking out the stories I am intending to follow. Stuff has made it clear they are at arm's length but will give me the support that I need,' she said.

Stuff’s chief editor Mark Stevens told Mediawatch two journalists - Cecile Meier and Michelle Duff - will work closely with Ms Mau. 

"That can be dialed up depending on need and outcomes. It could change at any time. Beyond that, we have support from Stuff senior editors right through to administration support," he said.

In an article launching the campaign Ms Mau said there will be "a triage system" to assess people's complaints. 

"(We will) help survivors lay a police complaint if that's what they want to do  . . . and to access specialist counselling."

This is a commitment that goes beyond normal newsgathering, but Mark Stevens said Stuff can handle it. 

"This is not the only project we have underway where we have undertaken to offer people support. It isn't unusual, though it is a big commitment," he told Mediawatch.

Stuff's chief editor Mark Stevens and Alison Mau. Photo/ Claire Eastham-Farrelly

"It is not so different to the care shown by investigative reporters especially when it comes to sensitive issues like these," said Ms Mau.

"I've talked to reporters who have worked like this. There are very few who 'run and dump'," she said.

What’s the actual goal of the Stuff MeTooNZ campaign?

"This is about achieving change. For individuals who suffered while their persecutors prospered. And to make this country, its institutions and its workplaces safer for those who dwell here," stuff.co.nz editor Patrick Crewdson and Sunday Star Times editor Jonathan Milne wrote in a joint editorial published in the paper last weekend. 

"It may be too soon to say whether Me Too and the related Time's Up movement will achieve the lasting cultural change of the civil rights movement or the sexual revolution. But it's not too soon to realise confronting sexual misconduct is a defining issue of our time," they wrote.

Not everyone in the media is onside.

On Newstalk ZB last weekend, former TV journalist turned media-trainer Janet Wilson rewound to before the civil rights era and sexual revolution. She said it reminded her of McCarthy-ism in the US in the 1950s.

In the New Zealand Herald and on Newstalk ZB Mike Hosking condemned #MeTooNZ as "tacky, tabloid" newsgathering designed to create clickbait.

"I can tell Mike Hosking there are easier, cheaper ways to draw clicks. Big time-consuming investigations like this is not one of those."

"There is a big difference between getting a story tip and publishing a story. The part in the middle is the journalism. There will be rigorous reporting before we get to that point. The basic fundamentals of journalism will put paid to Mike Hosking's concerns," he said.

When launching the campaign, Ms Mau said she wanted to hear from anyone with a story to tell in any profession or industry where “it seems this kind of criminal behaviour is rife.”

"There are certain male-dominated industries that have a problem. I can see that clearly just from the first 100 or 150 emails and messages I got," said Ms Mau.

"I'm looking first at organisations or companies showing systemic problems with harassment and have been like that for years. We are concentrating on those because... the perpetrators are still in place and people are in danger, " she said.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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