The vital role female journalists have played in shaping the public's response to sexual harassment and assault

The vital role female journalists have played in shaping the public’s response to sexual harassment and assault

journalists

Female journalists have played a vital role in Australia’s media and political landscape over the past two months, breaking stories and consistently reporting on issues of sexual harassment and violence against women.

The work of these journalists, across various news publications, have set a new standard for how issues of sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexism, and gendered violence should be covered by the mainstream media. Their tenacious reporting has shaped how Australians have consumed political news since February, giving continued light to issues that women deal with every day, that too often go unspoken.

In February, it was Samantha Maiden, political editor for news.com.au who broke the ground-breaking allegation that former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins had been raped at Parliament House in 2019.

It was Louise Milligan, investigative journalist at the ABC, who brought to light a historic rape allegation against a federal cabinet minister, who later revealed himself as then-Attorney General Christian Porter. Porter has denied the allegation.

It was The Project’s Lisa Wilkinson who conducted a television interview with Brittany Higgins, where Australians heard from Higgins, in her own words, for the first time.

Then there are the journalists across various publications, who have continued reporting on the issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence against women over the last two months.

Laura Tingle and Leigh Sales from the ABC, Katharine Murphy and Amy Remeikis from Guardian Australia, along with dozens of other journalists in the Canberra press gallery, have produced detailed public interest journalism on the issues plaguing the federal government over the past two months.

There’s Tracy Grimshaw, from Nine’s A Current Affair, who secured an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, determined to put the tough questions to him and leaving little space for Morrison to brush his government’s treatment of women under the rug.

These journalists have held Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the government he leads to account for the mishandling of not only Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape at Parliament House, but also wider issues of how women are treated in politics and wider society.

Last week, the Australian Financial Review published a take-down piece of Samantha Maiden, with the headline “PM caught in crusade of women journos”. The piece included an irrelevant assessment of Maiden’s childhood and personality.  It also said that “angry coverage” from “a new, female leadership team” of journalists had “often strayed into unapologetic activism”.

To have portrayed vital public interest journalism as “activism” triggered a swift backlash on social media, as many offered their support to Maiden and the other journalists mentioned in the AFR piece.

Indeed, Brittany Higgins tweeted about Maiden in response, writing that she is an “exceptional journalist and my personal hero”.

The unrelenting work of women to bring these stories into the public discourse over the past months, and the clear focus on holding the federal government to account for the way it continues to mishandle allegations of harassment and violence against women, has shaped the way these issues are currently playing out into the mainstream.

Their work also provided space in the public discourse for Chanel Contos to share thousands of allegations of sexual assault in Australian high schools, generating new discussion about consent and sex education in schools.

The latest Essential poll showed Scott Morrison’s standing with Australian women has taken a big hit in light of the ongoing crisis his government is facing, and that a majority of voters supported a range of actions to improve gender inequality in Australia.

That voters are now showing concern about gender inequality in this country is thanks to the journalists who have led and shaped coverage on these issues since February.

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