The field of journalism in Sri Lanka has been hit very hard by allegations of sexual harassment after several women journalists sparked a #MeToo style social media campaign by revealing details of the abuse.
Mid-level and senior journalists and broadcasters have been identified as alleged perpetrators by the women journalists who have begun to take their stories of abuse on Twitter. Several stories have been confirmed by fellow reporters who worked beside them in hostile or sexually aggressive work environments.
The spate of claims started when journalist Sarah Kellapatha tweeted last week that a male reporter had threatened to rape her while she was working at a newspaper from 2010 to 2017.
Journalist Sahla Ilham said she had been sexually abused by a “famous editor” at a now-defunct newspaper. Ilham said her abuser had pressured her family to keep the incident quiet.
“I have been silent for too long,” Ilham said.
I have been silent for too long, now I have to add what happened to me as well. After I started working at a reputed now defunct newspaper, I was sexually abused by a famous editor in a now defunct newspaper. It was to the point that he was controlling my family to stay quiet. –
— sahla ilham (@sahlailham) June 21, 2021
When she was interning at a newspaper in Sri Lanka, US Journalist Jordana Narin said a senior journalist had sexually harassed and verbally abused her, forcing her to complain to the chief editor. The alleged abuser was forced to resign from the newspaper Narin said.
This is my statement on experiences I had with a certain journalist/lawyer in Sri Lanka four years ago. I’ve refrained from sharing it publicly before, but it’s time. And let me say unequivocally — I believe and stand with @saararrr. pic.twitter.com/lIT9WFSGQN
— Jordana Narin (@JordanaSophie) June 21, 2021
“(He) was the best journalist Sri Lanka had ever seen. I couldn’t wait to learn from him … Instead I spent the next two months being favoured by him, then yelled at by him, embarrassed by him, and groped repeatedly by him,” Narin said.
“And let me say unequivocally — I believe and stand with @saararrr,” Narin tweeted, referring to Kellapatha. Narin also tweeted extracts from a journal she maintained during the period of harassment detailing the incidents.
The journalist Aisha Nazim compiled a list of women sharing their stories and tried to identify the men accused of harassment so that other women could steer clear of users.
I'm not sure about movements that flare up and down, but here's a small thread compiling #MeToo instances in #lka. The perps haven't been named, and I don't want to do that and get myself abused, but I'll give enough clues for locals to know what's what, or who, where needed.
— Aisha (@aishnazim) June 18, 2021
At the Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said he would order an investigation into the harassment allegations.
At the same press conference, a male journalist Deepal Warnakulasuriya informed the Media Minister that one of the victims who had spoken out about sexual abuse from a senior journalist was making unfounded allegations. Warnakulasuriya told the Minister that he had escorted the woman making the allegations for medical treatment on one occasion, hinting about her medical condition and insinuating that her claims were not to be trusted.
On Twitter, Kellapatha said a male colleague had “threaten to rape” her once during a normal conversation we were having. The journalist she referred to has replied the charge.
Women journalists said the experiences had caused upset them deeply and caused long-term trauma.
The Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) urged media institutions to launch swift investigations into the allegations and take necessary steps to prevent recurrence. The FCA expressed solidarity with Sri Lankan journalists who have faced harassment at the workplace.
— Shihar Aneez (@shiharaneez) June 22, 2021
Senior Sri Lankan journalists have also expressed solidarity with the victims.
“Some of these allegations are disturbing enough to read, must be a hell to live through. Investigating them would be the first step,” said Daily Mirror columnist Ranga Jayasuriya.
Work place policies against sexual or any other kind of harassment, not just in media, but in any profession, were a requirement said Jayasuriya.
Some of these allegations are disturbing enough to read, must be a hell to live through.
Investigating them would be the first step.
But what we need most are work place policies against sexual or any other kind of harassment, not just in media , but in any profession . https://t.co/G7kLu3uyIS
— Ranga Jayasuriya (@RangaJayasuriya) June 22, 2021
Journalist Marianne David, Deputy Editor at Daily FT said it had been “upsetting and triggering” to see so much about sexual abuse and harassment on the timeline, but insisted that the “conversations need to happen”.
“Thinking of all who have been violated in any way & rendered voiceless & helpless; I’ve been there too. May you be safe & feel safe,” David tweeted.
Dharisha Bastians, former editor of the Sunday Observer, said the allegations were “disturbing, agonising, and all too familiar”. “Solidarity with women journalists for the courage to speak out about what has been happening in #SriLanka newsrooms for too long,” Bastians tweeted.
“Past time for accountability, critical reflection & change to make editorials safer. #MeToo,” she said on Twitter.
Journalist Meera Srinivasan, correspondent for The Hindu newspaper in India said: #SriLanka: In solidarity with colleagues sharing their harrowing accounts of sexual harassment in newsrooms.”
Srinivasan said she hoped they were heard with “urgency, sensitivity and fairness by media houses and editors.”
#SriLanka: In solidarity with colleagues sharing their harrowing accounts of sexual harassment in newsrooms. Hope they are heard with urgency, sensitivity and fairness by media houses and editors. #lka#MeToo #TimesUp
— Meera Srinivasan (@Meerasrini) June 22, 2021
Megara Tegal, a Gender and minority rights Researcher said “#MeToo movements might out one or two perpetrators, but for long-term change we need mechanisms to empower women to complain and take those complaints seriously.”
— Meg (@MegTegal) June 22, 2021
Roar.lk, a multimedia media platform condemned all forms of harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of power in a special editorial. “We are concerned, not just for the safety of the female journalists who have come forward, but also for those of any gender who choose not to, as well as those who may still be silently exposed to abuse in any form or manner by those in positions of power,” Team Roar said in the Editorial. “..if there was ever a time for industry-wide introspection and dismantling of informal structures that allow abuse of power within newsrooms, it is now…,” it said.
Senior journalist Kshama Ranawana remarked on the fact that it took a foreign journalist to open up about harassment. Ranawana said it “indicates the level of intimidation local women journalists have faced.”
That it took a foreign woman journalist to open up, indicates the level of intimidation local women journalists have faced. Let's hope there is a proper investigation and perpetrators punished. Safe workplaces for all. https://t.co/JUFiFh1uwo
— Kshama Ranawana (@ranawanak) June 22, 2021
“Let’s hope there is a proper investigation and perpetrators punished. Safe workplaces for all,” she tweeted.