A “culture” of sexual harassment, where men could “prey” on female staff members has always been prevalent at Lotus FM, a former staff member says
This follows the release of a report of an independent commission inquiry into sexual harassment at the SABC, released on Tuesday.
The commission was established by the public broadcaster in June, and it was tasked with uncovering whether there was a discernible trend of sexual harassment at the SABC, as well as determining the extent of the problem and the role of institutional culture in it.
Lotus FM was singled out in the report. Most of the complaints received by the commission came from that station and Channel Africa.
The report noted: “There is a worrying history of gender-based violence cases from Lotus FM indicating a need for strong leadership.”
Vanessa Tedder, a former Lotus FM reporter and television journalist, told News24 in an interview that the findings against Lotus were not shocking.
Tedder also testified before the commission.
She started at the SABC as an intern in Johannesburg in 1999 and was transferred to the Lotus FM studio in Durban after six months. She resigned from the SABC in 2005 to join e.tv and stayed with the station until 2012.
In her new book, Beaten But Not Broken , Tedder has laid bare the details of an abusive relationship which began at Lotus FM. She described being physically and sexually assaulted on the station’s premises. One altercation left her running down the passage with a bloody nose in full view of her co-workers. In another case, her abuser hit her and kicked her while a studio presenter was on the other side of the door.
Tedder believes staff members, even management, at the station knew what was going on and did nothing to stop it. Or at the very least, she says they suspected it. Yet, her abuser could remain on air, “influencing public opinion and being in the spotlight”.
To add insult to injury, after the release of her book, Tedder was trolled on social media by a lawyer and so-called “gender activist” who was used by Lotus as an expert on air. She was victim-shamed and accused of lying about the abuse.
“The culture (of sexual harassment) was always prevalent at Lotus. I’m not particularly shocked by the findings (of the commission). Men – some presenters and managers – used the SABC as their playground to prey on staff members and to prey on listeners.”
She said the environment at Lotus was filled with “toxic masculinity”.
“As a female staff member, you come to expect someone is going to hit on me or say something inappropriate to me. It’s the done thing. You really aren’t equipped or given the necessary tools to know how to react to it,” she told News24.
The main problem, she said, was that there were no repercussions for the perpetrators.
This is borne out by the commission’s report, which notes that this was an issue across the SABC.
According to the report: “Of all the cases the commission came across, no alleged perpetrator was ever suspended or found guilty of sexual harassment even though this was the main complaint. Those charged (often supervisors to complainants) were allowed to work (victimisation not monitored) and then found guilty of unprofessional behaviour, [not sexual harassment] where cases went that far.”
Tedder said the effect on female employees was “poisonous to say the least”.
“You are put in a precarious position of trying to safeguard your job, but also your reputation and your credibility. How do you do this without offending anybody, especially to someone who has made advances towards you? It’s a tricky balancing act. And why should anyone be put in that position? You’ll be targeted and victimised if you say no,” she said, adding that this was especially tough on young women trying to break into the broadcast industry.
Tedder said the report was an indictment on corporate South Africa, and not just the SABC.
“It is symptomatic of what’s happening in South Africa. Women are just under constant threat,” she said.
Former Lotus FM news reader and author Vanessa Tedder says she has been asked to testify by the SABC before the Commission of Inquiry into sexual harassment on allegations of sexual misconduct at the station.#sabcnews pic.twitter.com/tZQJmbhtNR
— Radio 2000 (@Radio2000ZA) October 28, 2018
Tedder said that part of the problem was that the SABC had largely been left with the same “architecture” as it had in the apartheid years – that is, according to race.
“You dump Indians in one place, black people in another. The demographics are not representative of South Africa. It’s the perfect breeding ground for nepotism. People rally together, and people close ranks to protect each other,” she said.
Diversity might not totally eradicate the problem, she said, but it might make it a bit more difficult for the culture to thrive. But the SABC is not beyond redemption, said Tedder. There are “good people” trying to clean-up the organisation, she said.
The SABC directed News24 to its statement, in which it said it would implement the recommendations of the commission. This includes a recommendation that there is an “urgent need” to focus on the problems at Lotus FM and Channel Africa.
The 13 recommendations include training of all staff on gender equality and human rights with a focus particularly on gender equality and violence against women, and the establishment of gender desks at the SABC.