Abuse rife in media industry, says Tracey Spicer

Tracey Spicer at Macleay Sydney for a guest lecture addressing sexual abuse and inequality in the media. 28november2017
Tracey Spicer at Macleay Sydney for a guest lecture addressing sexual abuse and inequality in the media. 28november2017

Sexual abuse in Australia’s media runs far deeper and wider than the accusations aired against former TV presenter Don Burke.

Tracey Spicer, former Channel 10 star newsreader and journalist, gave Macleay College journalism students a sneak preview last week of her campaign to out abusers and change the misogynistic culture of Australian media.

In the wake of abuse revelations that rocked the US entertainment industry, Spicer, a longtime campaigner for gender equality in Australia, called for Australians to tell of their own #MeToo experiences.

Two women had already confided in her about sexual abuse they had suffered in the industry when she tweeted her appeal in October.

Within days, she had been inundated with offers to tell about offenders and incidents dating back decades. She has already gathered more than 470 stories about alleged abusers, some of whom are the subject of multiple complaints across many years.

Spicer’s stories appalled students who have grown up to expect more equitable treatment, and have yet to confront the harsh realities of workplaces still shaped by male-dominated management.

“Back in my day someone would grab you by the arse or go up to you at a Christmas party, grab your boobs, and go honk honk like they were a pair of air horns.”

At the time, “I had no language, no way of knowing how to handle this” or who to complain to.

“I believe an entire generation of women was forced out of the media workforce because they were simply sick of being groped and grabbed at work most weeks.

“Because it was so common you normalised it … we simply thought it was something we had to put up with…”

Have things changed? Up to a point.

There is still abuse but it is subtler, Spicer said. Alcohol is still a trigger… At work parties, she has noted, male producers often offer to massage journalists’ shoulders and, “too often, it has nefarious intent…”.

Spicer was struck by something a rape counsellor said when they were discussing some of the stories she had heard: “[That’s] not only sexual harassment, that’s also indecent assault and if that happened in the street you’d be going to the police,” she was told.

“I don’t want people to think these are just a few bad eggs. What we’re trying to expose is systemic abuse… [Some workplaces] actively encourage it by promoting the perpetrators and silencing, sidelining or sacking the victims.”

She is now working with the ABC, Fairfax, three law firms and the media union to collate and document the reports. Whistleblowers are first asked if they need counselling or legal help, or assistance in lodging a complaint with police if necessary.

Part of the solution, Spicer says, is to persuade Australia’s male dominated boards to help change workplace cultures because “change will flow from the top”. She only hopes the stories of sexual harassment and abuse don’t turn young women away from their passion.

Sexual abuse is just one aspect of her campaign as co-founder of Women in Media to improve women’s standing in media. The organisation vows to address “inequality in pay, conditions, opportunity and promotion” and create a “best-practice environment to ensure women are able to fully and equitably contribute”.

Spicer says people still need to be shown there is a gender pay gap. “There are still a lot of people who think that is a fallacy.”

Before change can occur, she said, boardrooms dominated by men needed to accept that women deserve equal pay, and to pay women accordingly.

She doesn’t expect to see all women receive equal pay for equal work in her lifetime. But she will keep fighting to make pay parity a reality. – Words by Emma Kosowski, Video by Nina Matijevic, Post-production by Nooha Masri / Edited by Tony Kleu