A damning independent culture review of radio company MediaWorks has found a raft of failings at the company, including problems with sexual harassment, racism, bullying and pay equity, as well as a failure to deal with some of those problems by senior management.
The 45-page report released by Maria Dew QC was compiled from interviews with 100 current staff, 25 former staff and one young woman who was a guest at a MediaWorks promotional event in 2019. The review also gathered information from 483 current MediaWorks staff through a confidential survey.
Over half of the 126 interview participants raised incidents or concerns of sexual harassment or discrimination that they had experienced themselves or witnessed towards others. There were six participants who came forward with serious allegations of sexual harassment and/or sexual harm caused to them while at MediaWorks or at MediaWorks events.
Dew said a “significant” number of people reported either witnessing or experiencing unreasonable and repeated bullying behaviour – 45 per cent of females and 34 per cent of males have witnessed some form of bullying.
The report also highlighted a lack of ethnic diversity at Mediaworks. Twenty per cent of interviewees reported concerns about racism or racial discrimination.
The review found overall, the MediaWorks average gender gap is 18 per cent, and is 16.2 per cent in MediaWorks Radio. The median gender pay gap across New Zealand was 9.5 per cent in 2020.
Dew said this reveals that “MediaWorks has more women in lower paid roles and more men in higher paid roles”.
The review also identified a failure by senior staff to deal with problems, with low trust in the People and Culture team.
“Many participants who had raised misconduct complaints over the past three years stated that they felt their complaint had been poorly handled by the P&C team. Some even reported being warned off raising any complaints and that members of the P&C team had expressed powerlessness in their role,” Dew said.
“As a result, front line staff and many managers report being wary of taking any concerns to the team, and they regard the Whistle Blower Policy as ineffective.”
The report also details an “example of poor accountability” following an incident at a 2019 MediaWorks promotional event, which was referred to “as a concerning symptom of the MediaWorks culture” by 35 review participants, Dew said.
The report says in late 2019, a young woman won a radio listeners competition with others aged between 18 and 25 years of age. MediaWorks invited her to attend a weekend promotional event which was attended by 30 young listeners and 30 MediaWorks staff. This involved travelling on a Saturday afternoon and staying overnight at a location outside of Auckland. The event involved activities, music, alcohol, and food. The MediaWorks staff at the event included MediaWorks Radio personalities, management, promotional and sales staff.
“The young woman states that she became heavily intoxicated after drinking alcohol provided at the MediaWorks event over many hours,” the report says.
“She does not recall much about the events after about 6pm that evening. Later in the evening, MediaWorks staff saw a senior male MediaWorks employee engaging with the younger female guest. He was more than twenty years older than her. Some reported during this review feeling uncomfortable with the overly familiar physical contact between them. However, no other senior MediaWorks employees intervened to prevent the conduct.”
The report found later that evening, an incident of sexual conduct occurred between the young woman and the older man.
“The young woman states she woke up the next day unable to fully recall the events of that evening. She was not aware of the extent, if any, of sexual conduct that had occurred between her and the senior male employee. On returning to Auckland later that day, she became distressed and sought medical attention and police advice. She also contacted the male employee to confirm the extent of the sexual conduct between them.
“Since that time, the woman has reported suffering with serious psychological harm caused by the events of that evening and needing specialist counselling over a lengthy period. The impact of that evening has been significant for her.”
A police spokesperson says victims who want to talk to them following today's MediaWorks release will be able to do so in confidence.
"While we are unable to comment on specific individuals or organisations for privacy reasons, we are aware that some people may wish to talk to Police in relation to the matters reported in the media today.
"We take complaints of sexual assault very seriously and there are no time limits on reporting such allegations.
"If you choose to contact police you will be treated with respect and we will do everything we can to support you throughout the process," police say.
"Anyone who wishes to come forward and speak with us can be assured they can do so in confidence. Any information which is given to us will be assessed to determine what further steps may be required from a police perspective, including appropriate support and advice to individuals who contact us."
Do you know more about this story? Contact our reporter Kristin Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dew says the male MediaWorks employee denies any unlawful conduct but “accepts and regrets” the harm caused to the young woman following the events of that evening, which he stated was an isolated event.
Dew found there was “no evidence” that any senior MediaWorks employee reported the incident for investigation to the People and Culture team or that MediaWorks intended to initiate any formal investigation on the Sunday or Monday after the incident.
“However, on the Tuesday after the incident, the woman’s father reported the sexual harm complaint to the then CEO of MediaWorks. As a result, the employee was suspended from work and MediaWorks commenced an internal investigation. During a meeting with the young woman, MediaWorks offered an apology, and she was asked if she was open to the male employee contacting her, if he wanted to make an apology. There was a short internal investigation conducted by MediaWorks People & Culture.”
Dew says there was no written report of the investigation ever made by MediaWorks.
“The investigation concluded with an oral discussion, between key senior executives, that the male employee’s conduct did not warrant termination. However, some formal consequences were imposed on the employee. The young woman was not informed of the outcome of her complaint until she followed up with MediaWorks. The young woman was deeply upset with MediaWorks’ response.”
Dew has made 32 recommendations, including recommending that MediaWorks apologises to staff and to the young female guest at the promotional event for failing to respond adequately to complaints of misconduct.
She’s recommended a review of the structure of the People and Culture team, and bringing in a consultant to investigate pay equity.
A MediaWorks spokesperson said CEO Cam Wallace would not be available for an interview on the findings of the review, saying “Cam's focus will be on our people”.
In a statement posted on the MediaWorks website, Wallace says the company will develop an action plan around implementing the recommendations from the independent workplace review, which will be released in spring.
“We are mindful that generating culture change takes time and this review is an important step in a process for MediaWorks which is already underway. The executive team has recently been working with staff to establish a company vision, purpose and values, along with our business strategy, and we look forward to rolling this out soon.
“Other work underway includes a review of all employment policies, including the MediaWorks Code of Conduct and a programme of respect training workshops to address some of the issues raised in the review. These will be implemented in the final quarter of the year. I am confident in the direction we are heading in to build a culture at MediaWorks which is modern and contemporary.”
1 NEWS reported in May that current and former staff feared nothing would change at the company despite the review, one saying bullying has been “actively enabled by some of the most powerful people in the organisation”.
A week later The Edge radio station issued an on-air apology after 1 NEWS revealed a listener had been duped into participating in an on-air dating segment with two interns using fake identities.
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