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Former Mediaworks CEO Cam Wallace (Photo: Supplied)
Former Mediaworks CEO Cam Wallace (Photo: Supplied)

MediaAugust 4, 2021

‘A culture of acceptance of misconduct’: The MediaWorks review, explained

Former Mediaworks CEO Cam Wallace (Photo: Supplied)
Former Mediaworks CEO Cam Wallace (Photo: Supplied)

Maria Dew QC’s independent report on conduct and culture at the radio and outdoor advertising company was published today. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s the tldr on the report?

Six allegations of sexual assault were heard. Experiences of bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination and bias on racial and gender grounds are all described. Most participants said a “very dominant ‘Boys’ Club’ has been in play for many years”. 

The 46-page publicly released version of the report is the culmination of a four-month review by Maria Dew, over the course of which the QC surveyed 483 current staff and interviewed 126 people with links to the company. “Almost all interview participants raised concerns about certain negative behaviour impacting MediaWorks culture,” says Dew.

What were the sexual assault allegations?

There were four “serious allegations of sexual assault on females in the last three years” and two “historic sexual assault allegations”. In every one of the six cases, “the female reported that either it was not dealt with adequately by MediaWorks at the time or they did not feel safe to make a complaint”, reports Dew.

What is MediaWorks’ response?

“I would like to unreservedly apologise on behalf of MediaWorks to current and former staff for MediaWorks’ failures over the past years to inadequately respond to complaints of misconduct, and for the harm that this has caused,” said Cam Wallace, who joined MediaWorks as CEO in January 2020, in a statement. He pledged to follow Dew’s “clear direction for creating long-term change” and to work to implement the report’s 32 recommendations.

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How did the “boys’ club” manifest?

“The most common examples given were on-going sexist and racist behaviours, repeated minimising of sexual harassment, failure to promote greater gender diversity, the misuse of alcohol and drugs and the lack of accountability for poor behaviour,” Dew says. 

Those who identified a boys’ club culture “referred to a set of male senior management who they saw as favouring males for appointment and progression and protecting other men from the consequences of misconduct. The misconduct included drunken behaviour at work events, acceptance of drug taking, bullying behaviour and inappropriate workplace relationships with younger females. Many participants referred to this as conduct that was ‘swept under the carpet’.”

What about the harassment?

The Review Survey results showed that 26% of female and 17% of male survey participants had witnessed some form of sexual harassment in the last three years. The Survey also revealed 18% of female survey participants had personally experienced some form of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, 71 people alleged experiencing some form of bullying.

What prompted the review?

Posts on the anonymous Beneath the Glass Ceiling NZ Instagram page alleged sexual misconduct, harassment and misuse of drugs and alcohol at MediaWorks. Many of these allegations were in turn reported in the mainstream media. Cam Wallace, the newly arrived CEO of MediaWorks, had separately received “internal reports of concerns about conduct and culture”. Dew was appointed in March to examine the workplace culture, “asked to consider allegations of sexual and racial harassment, discrimination, misuse of drugs and alcohol, bullying and any other significant matters that may be impacting MediaWorks culture”.

Who are the allegations against?

The public report does not name and shame. In the introduction it is noted that because the industry is small and there’s a limited number of potential employers, many people did not speak out because of fear of career repercussions. That may also have contributed to the culture.

What are the findings on diversity? 

The report identifies “a lack of gender and ethnic diversity” at the company. About 90% of the workforce considered themselves “European/NZer/Australian”

On gender, the numbers speak for themselves:

The report also finds that complaints about racism and sexism on air were not taken seriously by management.

What does Dew recommend?

She makes 32 recommendations, which fall under nine “action areas”. These are:

  1. MediaWorks to acknowledge its failure to respond adequately to complaints of misconduct
  2. Board and leadership
  3. People & culture expertise
  4. People management training
  5. Diversity
  6. Pay equity
  7. Workplace policies
  8. Valuing Māori at MediaWorks
  9. Valuing all MediaWorks staff

In their own words

The report includes verbatim quotes from many who shared their experiences with Dew. These include:

“It’s a Boys’ Club, even between management and clients it is massive. I have seen clients come in and make sexist and disgusting comments to younger female staff and watched as a senior manager laughs along with the client.”

“[Misconduct] is swept under the rug unless it is made public in the media. People are only reprimanded if it’s leaked to press.”

“No female is given a leg up. There is an attitude of ‘you are one of the sons or you’re not’. There is the inner circle and females don’t get let into that circle.”

“There are constant gross comments made by men while working promos. Derogatory language like ‘slut’ and ‘hoe’ is used in the office.”

“I especially loved the idea of using our platform to promote and normalise te reo Māori, but always felt unsupported in doing so, and I was doing a lot of extra unpaid work to help a large media company tick boxes it had no aroha for. This is a situation Māori often find themselves in Pākehā institutions – going the extra mile out of love for their language and culture but ultimately feeling burnt out and taken advantage of. MediaWorks, in my experience, are way behind where they need to be for Māori representation, valuing te reo and creating an inclusive safe workplace for Māori.”

“Misuse of drugs is not a massive problem for MediaWorks, but a few people have a massive problem, and it is widespread in the media industry. It is a concern when it is being supplied to younger members.”

“There are a few employees that get away with bullying co-workers and discrimination due to their status in the business or relationships with leadership.”

“[One MediaWorks employee] is quite aggressive and intimidating. I was so nervous the whole time. I received counselling. He called us idiots and yelled at me. This became normalised toxicity.”

“I was disgusted by [the misconduct], and it felt brushed under the carpet. I want us to move on, but we need to acknowledge the mistakes we have made and show a way forward that is healthy, safe and diverse. It feels good to talk about why it made me so angry as I am so passionate about MediaWorks.”

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