In the end, he was nailed. Fired, humiliated and publically shamed, this giant of a media genius who built Fox News into an empire that none could rival, earning billions in profit for his masters, the Murdoch Family. Roger Ailes, 76, son of a ditch-digger made Fox News, the number one watched TV channel in US. He put his personal stamp on women at Fox — trademarked as white, blonde, blue-eyed and fleshy. The Ailes-crafted package selling risque glamour worked beautifully. But during those electrifying 20 years, Ailes, a serial sex offender, routinely propositioned his female staffers for sexual favours. Gretchen Carlson, a former beauty queen, was one of them. She was the face of ‘Fox and Friends’ for years, until Ailes moved her to an afternoon slot from where he sacked her recently.
Carlson hit back with a high-profile lawsuit. Describing her former boss, a married man with a young son, as a lout and serial sexual harasser who would ogle at her, calling her “sexy”, she accused him of firing her after Carlson refused to have a sexual relationship with him. Since then, 25 women have come forward with similar stories, the most damning from Fox’s current mega-star Megyn Kelly. She told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances towards her about 10 years ago when she was a young correspondent at Fox.
Credit for acting on the complaints goes to Fox’s owner Rupert Murdoch. Ailes was found to be guilty and ousted from his job. Not so in Pakistani electronic media, where such complaints routinely surface but are treated as what you call DOA, dead on arrival, by the male bosses. The glamour and the glint of television attract young professional women who want to be treated with respect by their male colleagues. Sadly, some men display a sick psyche of male chauvinism that is reflected in their behaviour and attitude towards their women workers. Most treat them like eye-candy, thinking it’s okay to be boorish because women are the ‘weaker sex.’
Abuse scandals have hit Pakistan Television in the past to rise and ebb. Currently in the news is one such case. Six women news anchors complained to the information minister that the news director had “sexually harassed, humiliated and pressured” them. Lacking faith in the in-house inquiry set up to probe the accusation, these women then filed a complaint before the Federal Ombudsman Justice (retd) Yasmin Abbasi. Kudos to Justice Abbasi for immediately ordering the removal of Athar Farooq Bhutar from his job. Since then, some 80 PTV staffers have gone into a full attack mode against the six women to support Bhutar. The difference between the Fox News probe and the PTV team is stark: while the former hired a top law firm to do due diligence by interviewing Fox staffers, PTV managing director Imran Gardezi opted for an in-house inquiry that may not reveal the whole truth.
This week, the chairman of the most renowned advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi was shown the door when he made sexist remarks against his women colleagues. Earlier, the CEO of creative agency J Walter Thompson resigned after a female staffer accused him of harassment.
In America, slapping individuals and organisations with sexual harassment cases is commonplace. There are prestigious law firms specialising in them. Not surprisingly then, on the first day of my joining a hotel in New Jersey, the HR manager spent an hour briefing me how to report sexual harassment. Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique sparked a wave of feminism ushering the most ‘sweeping social revolution’ in American history in the ‘60s. The feminist manifesto fired the first shot at American husbands and bosses whose mistaken belief of male superiority limited and sabotaged women’s full potential. At the 1985 UN Conference on Women in Nairobi, I interviewed Friedan. She talked about her own experience of being beaten by her husband; about how her male boss fired her when she became pregnant with her second child. Freidan gave a voice to women all across the world to stand up for their rights, especially when they are sexually abused, physically and emotionally.
More than an impotent law on harassment, needed is a Betty Friedan in Pakistan.