The following is a press release from the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT), which deals with the resignation of Trinidad Express journalist Anika Gumbs after her allegation of sexual harassment by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley:
MATT has taken note of a newspaper report that Express investigative journalist Anika Gumbs has resigned over alleged incidents of sexual harassment experienced while on the job.
We also note that political leader of the People’s National Movement (PNM), Dr Keith Rowley, against whom these allegations were made, has adamantly denied them.
This issue has emerged at the politically sensitive period of a general election campaign and would naturally be of concern to media practitioners, political aspirants and the public seeking clarity on the matter.
It is not MATT’s role or intention to comment on the political merits or demerits of this issue. Rather, MATT wishes to intervene on the media-related aspects that fall within our mandate to promote journalistic best practices and a strong, independent media.
We highlight the duty of media houses to promptly address allegations of conflicts of interest and sexual harassment.
Under the headline “A figure of controversies” on August 8, 2015, the Express Newspaper references a possible conflict of interest involving its staff reporter. Ms Gumbs was simultaneously a full-time member of staff at the Express and the recipient of two government contracts.
It was the business of the media house to which Ms Gumbs was attached to investigate that possible conflict of interest; take action, if necessary, to protect its reputation and the reputations of all its journalists; and communicate outcomes with the public it serves.
Credibility is the stock-in-trade of journalism and any matter that might undermine or potentially undermine the professional integrity of both journalist and media house, such as a perceived conflict of interest, should be effectively confronted by employers.
This issue also raises a critical discussion on sexual harassment of especially female journalists, already the subject of discussion by journalists internationally.
MATT has received numerous accounts of sexual harassment episodes from journalists who continue to suffer disturbing effects years after the experience.
In all cases where reports of sexual harassment are made, media houses must address such allegations swiftly and decisively to prevent recurrence.
Given the far-reaching implications of the current allegations, we call on all media houses to strengthen internal policies and protocols related to conflicts of interest and sexual harassment.
MATT recognises and respects the autonomy of media outlets.
We invite media managers to lead deliberations within their organisations on the changing environment of journalism and the heightened awareness of their publics. New challenges faced by journalists in the pursuit of their stories and enticements to which they may be vulnerable must be urgently tackled.
Independent journalism is a vital pillar of the democratic process and media houses and journalists must assume full responsibility for its protection and promotion.