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Former, current radio staff at MediaWorks fear 'toxic culture' won't change despite review

Current and former MediaWorks radio staff say they fear nothing will change at the company despite a current culture review.

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Employees have spoken to 1 NEWS following allegations of assault, harassment and bullying. Source: 1 NEWS

The review was sparked by allegations of assault, harassment and bullying which surfaced on the Instagram account Beneath the Glass Ceiling NZ, but some who’ve submitted are sceptical over whether there'll be consequences for those accused.

Sarah* had been working her dream job in radio when she says a new manager at MediaWorks flipped her life upside down.

“We'd been in a client meeting. He didn't like the way I behaved... I went to get up and leave and he closed the boardroom door telling me to sit down, yelling constantly. I was trying not to cry and he told me I wasn't allowed to leave the boardroom until the end of the day. He got right up in my face, and just stared at me for about 10-15 minutes.”

She says she had been good at her job, which she loved, and got on well with her colleagues who supported her. But not long after the new manager started, things in her office changed.

“Things like constant closed-door meetings if I didn't do something fast enough for him, if I didn't respond in the right way. Every single instance was a closed-door meeting telling me… I wasn't good enough at my job, which I'd never had before this.”

She says this went on for months, and that she and other colleagues would often cry in the recording booths.

“We had a tally on the wall, no-one knew what it was, but it was how many days we went without crying in our department and it never really got above one or two days. We had a joke that the radio studios were where you'd go and cry.”

Sarah* shares her story. Source: 1 NEWS

She says she took her concerns about the manager to a more senior staffer, but didn’t lay a formal complaint as she was worried about it impacting her job. She says just days later a formal complaint was laid against her, which included claims from a person she barely knew.

“The one thing that really sticks in my mind was this very high-up manager. He didn't work in the same office as me, I'd probably met the guy three or four times and in his statement about me he wrote, ‘She has a personality disorder, she's toxic, she's ruining this workplace.’

“Those words will stay with me forever. Even the fact that a manager gave that to me doesn't seem correct now.”

She says the complaint also included claims about her from former colleagues, but since she left the company several have been in touch with her to say they were pressured into saying negative things about her by senior staff, or they hadn’t written a complaint at all.

“I had one person who told me that the statement [management] used under this person’s name, they had not written, they had not seen, they did not know about” she says.

Sarah’s submitted to the independent culture review of MediaWorks being conducted by Queen’s Counsel Maria Dew. It’ll mean an examination of some of the countries’ most high-profile radio brands including The Edge, The Rock, More FM, Mai FM, George, The Sound and Magic Talk.

The review is still ongoing, but Sarah doesn’t believe the findings will lead to serious consequences for current senior staff.

“It makes me really sad that some of the people who enabled this behaviour are still working in radio. I don't think anything will ever come back on them. They do things in a way where they keep getting to be a manager and be in power.”

Former staffer Katie* is also sceptical about whether the review will mean a culture change, and a change of top-level staff at MediaWorks.

“There were managers that contributed to nasty rumours, that made sexual jokes, gestures, encouraged it from other people...That kind of stuff was regular and expected,” she says.

“It was happening in front of everyone's eyes. Some of the comments were made by the most senior of managers. You just think to yourself, 'Who do you go to about it?'”

The allegations first surfaced on the Instagram page ‘Beneath the Glass Ceiling NZ’. Source: 1 NEWS

She says her treatment at MediaWorks still affects her. She’s one of several former staff who are frustrated by the timeframe of the review, which is looking at complaints and allegations for the period from March 2018 to March 2021.

“I honestly believe they are terrified about what they'll find… What I think it says to a lot of the victims is that your story doesn't matter because it’s too old or too late, and that is quite upsetting.”

1 NEWS has also been told about problems with another current male staffer, who allegedly accessed the results of a confidential staff survey and used the complaints against him to intimidate more junior workers.

"He constantly alluded to the fact he knew what we had written. Knowing that he was aware of my comments made me feel extremely unsafe. Every time I arrived at work and saw his car in the carpark, I felt physically sick," Haley* says.

“He was the sole reason I — and at least a handful of others I personally know of — left the industry. My mental health had declined so rapidly, I couldn’t take it anymore. I ended up on anti-anxiety medication, which I’m still on and struggle with to this day.

"I discussed how I was feeling with multiple members of the upper management team on more than one occasion. Everyone knew…how this person treated people, yet there were never any consequences."

Louisa* says MediaWorks has “so much work to do”.

“During my time working at MediaWorks, I was paid…more than half of my annual income less…than my male colleague who did exactly the same role as me, and when I complained and accused the company of sexism, I was fobbed off and ignored.

“It’s so sad that in recent years I’ve had to tell almost every young woman who has approached me about what it’s like to work in NZ radio — that it’s sometimes rewarding, but mostly very toxic and you will be underpaid.”

It's not just former workers with serious concerns about the culture at MediaWorks, 1 NEWS has spoken to a current staffer who believes those at the top will not be held to account over problems at the company.

They say there’s a “toxic culture” at MediaWorks, and over the years bullying has been “actively enabled by some of the most powerful people in the organisation".

MediaWorks told 1 NEWS in a statement that it acknowledges that staff “likely have concerns” but that it’s encouraging staff to submit those concerns to the QC review.

While the current review will not make factual findings in relation to any MediaWorks employee or contractor, the company says it’s not ruling out separate investigations into individuals.

“The Terms of Reference… provide for any serious allegations to be referred by the reviewer for a separate employment investigation relating to a current named employee or contractor,” a spokesperson said.

“The review will consider issues of gender pay where this is raised as an area of alleged discrimination.”

It also says that while it’s confident the three-year review period will ensure “an effective review”, those who worked at MediaWorks outside of that can still submit by contacting the reviewer at mediaworks@mariadew.co.nz.

“The review is still being conducted and will continue through until the end of July this year… Maria Dew QC has… exercised her discretion to admit participants outside the three-year period, where she considers this is warranted.”

*Names have been changed

Do you know more about this story? Email reporter Kristin Hall in confidence at kristin.hall@tvnz.co.nz.