181 journalists sign statement against harassment of female colleagues in Chile

After a journalist covering Chile’s recent national celebrations was the subject of unsolicited touching and kissing while on camera, 181 journalists signed a letter expressing their firm rejection of sexual harassment and discrimination against female journalists in the country.

The letter seeks to create greater awareness about these situations and demands of journalistic and communications companies greater protection and responsibility for female journalists against the sexist harassment to which they are exposed while doing their jobs. The statement, which was widely shared on social networks and various journalistic portals, was initially published on digital site El Desconcierto and by organization Mujeres en el Medio.

On Sept.19, Chilevisión reporter, Marianela Estrada, covered the celebrations for Chile's independence day around the National Stadium. During her live broadcast, and at first, a subject approached her and kissed her on the cheek. At a later moment during her reporting, another man who wore a mask, approached her from behind and pretended to abduct her, reaching to her front and touching her chest. The comments that are heard from the Chilevisión studio during the transmission are: “the friend became affectionate.”

After this incident, journalists Carolina Rojas, Mónica Maureira and Fabiola Gutiérrez decided to seek the support of their colleagues to publicly express their disagreement and subsequently organize a series of actions to address this problem.

“These types of situations are a true reflection of how women journalists are and can be victims of thuggish, sexist and predatory behavior. These not only occur in street reporting but also in newsrooms, in stadiums, during interviews and in universities,” the letter says. "In the same way, the aggressors can also be our own colleagues, editors, bosses and even sources," it explained.

Carolina Rojas of El Desconcierto told the Knight Center that the harassment that Estrada experienced is not an isolated event, that on an informal level there are many other cases of sexual harassment and discrimination against women journalists in Chile that are not reported. When they summoned the support of their female colleagues for the signing of this pronouncement, Rojas said, they found it quite welcome, however, she does not think it represents all the journalists who have gone through similar situations.

“I believe that the list, the number (which signed the letter), does not reflect the outrage of other journalists who cannot sign, in addition, because they work either in the channel where this happens or work in a channel where they would probably be sanctioned for signing it. It does not reflect the true interest that there is for this initiative and that was the most important thing for us,” Rojas said.

Mónica Maureira, director of Mujeres en los Medios, told the Knight Center that with this kind of manifesto that several journalists signed, “it is part of an accumulation of strengths of several journalists who have been working for at least ten years to address not only what is the representation made by the traditional media of women and the lives of women but also of trying to give visibility to what is happening with the situation of women in the media.” She added that "that last part has been much more difficult to demonstrate, regarding how the media work on women's issues, particularly issues of violence."

According to the latest report from the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on gender-based violence and discrimination against female journalists, women journalists have fewer career development opportunities, are more exposed to sexist and misogynist comments, and more likely to be victims of sexual violence including extreme situations such as murder.

One of the journalists who signed the manifesto against harassment, journalist Lorena Penjean, director of the Chilean political satire weekly The Clinic, told the Knight Center that women reporters in Chile face different types of "sexism and sexist practices" daily. “The harassment is one of the most visible marks left, and that generates a violation so strong that we are angry that a woman, for doing her job, has to face not only the event itself, but subsequent questions that come without fail, especially in social networks,” she said.

“At the level of medial, this issue [of harassment] has always been like noise, something said in secret, in confidence among friends, but with great fear because our media system is very precarious. It is very competitive, there are few media to work in, working conditions are very precarious so one understands that women do not dare to denounce,” Maureira said.

“We know that there are practices of harassment within the media, that there is also discredit towards journalists who have more opinions, who defend the rights of women, who are more activist, who recognize themselves as feminists. All of them have had stormy relationships with the media. The other thing that is very symptomatic is that I would tell you that no more than 10 men support this letter,” she said.

After the manifesto and the reception they have achieved among their female colleagues, the organizers of this initiative plan to continue with an awareness campaign on social networks, with the hashtag #PeriodistasChilenasContraElAcoso (Chilean Journalists Against Harassment).

According to Maureira, they will seek to identify the gaps in the human resources policies of journalistic companies regarding cases of sexual harassment against female journalists. "We are going to study the situation to propose as a kind of basic protocol, having a diagnosis from what is not there," she said.