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Airing abuse allegations serves public interest

  • 16 January 2018


Tales of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace are not new. However, during 2017 allegations about inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviours in the entertainment industry became increasingly visible through both social media and mainstream outlets.

In the US, the #metoo movement gained momentum, and the previously secret 'shitty men in media' list was released into the wild. This culminated in Oprah Winfrey's powerful speech at the Golden Globes, declaring that a 'new day is on the horizon' for women.

The Australian media and entertainment industry has not been immune. Tracey Spicer has led investigation into allegations of media workplace harassment, and collaborations between ABC and Fairfax Media have revealed multiple allegations against two leading entertainers, Don Burke and Craig McLachlan, both of whom have strenuously defended themselves in the media.

The question of power in sexual harassment, intimidation, and assault, is not limited to the entertainment industry but exists in every sphere of society — media and entertainment is simply the case study du jour.

Response to the allegations has been mixed, if not predictable. Many (both women and men) have been emboldened by the publicity to come forward and to tell their own stories. Women in particular have expressed relief at the disclosure of behaviours so many women suffer routinely in almost any context — an experience of the entitlement of those in powerful positions to demand sexual attention for their own gratification, and without consent.

By contrast, many claim that it is inappropriate for media to report these stories when they should properly be brought to the police to be dealt with by the law. The tenor of this argument is that these stories overturn the presumption of innocence as the central principle of justice.

Such 'justice arguments' suggest that without due process, false claims might be made. They claim that the men charged with the allegations stand to lose everything, without even the chance of defending themselves. Indeed, McLachlan has already stood down from Adelaide performances of the Rocky Horror Show.


"The pervasiveness of the problem shifts the issue from one affecting the individual, to something in the public interest."


As a lawyer, I understand such arguments. The concept of justice at law depends upon systems that are designed to weigh evidence, affording the parties the opportunity to tell their stories according to well-established rules. But what if these systems are inadequate to expose the abuses of power evident in the recent disclosures?

Many of the