MediaWorks investigation uncovers multiple sexual assault, racism, sexism, drug use allegations, CEO 'unreservedly apologises'

The independent investigation into workplace culture at MediaWorks has revealed a "harmful 'Boys' Club' culture" and multiple allegations of sexual harassment and harm - including a report of a young female competition winner suffering serious psychological distress after a sexual incident with a much older MediaWorks employee. 

The investigation carried out by Maria Dew QC gathered data from over 480 current staff and found that at least 22 percent of all participants had witnessed sexual harassment at MediaWorks and 18 percent of female participants (44 employees) had personally experienced sexual harassment.

Seven male employees also reported personal experiences of sexual harassment. 

Six participants came forward with serious allegations of sexual assault caused to them while at work, or while attending events run by the radio company. One of these complaints has been referred to the CEO for further action.

In a statement, MediaWorks CEO Cam Wallace apologised to the victims and committed to serious change.

"I would like to unreservedly apologise on behalf of MediaWorks to current and former staff for MediaWorks' failures over the past years to inadequately respond to complaints of misconduct, and for the harm that this has caused," he said.

Wallace said MediaWorks, which owned Newshub until it was sold to Discovery in 2020, would move forward on all 32 recommendations from the workplace review which give "clear direction for creating long-term change".

"Today is a pivotal moment in MediaWorks' history and is not only a step forward for long-term change in our workplace, but for the wider media industry," he added.

The investigation acknowledged that many participants shared the view that the 'Boys' Club' culture fostered at MediaWorks helped enable the misconduct against many female staff. 

"It's a Boy's Club, even between management and clients it is massive. I have seen clients come in and make sexist and disgusting comments to younger female staff and watched as a senior manager laughs along with the client," one participant said.

The report said that sexual harassment and sexism was "a serious concern" in the workplace. 

"The conduct described by interview participants disturbingly included four serious allegations of sexual assault on females in the last three years and two historic sexual assault allegations," the report said. 

"In each case, the female reported that either it was not dealt with adequately by MediaWorks at the time or they did not feel safe to make a complaint." 

The report goes into detail about a 2019 incident involving a young competition winner, who said she was 19 years old in her testimonial, which was shared anonymously on whistleblowing Instagram account Beneath The Glass Ceiling NZ earlier this year. 

The incident was referred to by more than 35 review participants. It took place at an event held by the company involving MediaWorks radio personalities, management, other staff and 30 young listeners who stayed overnight at a location outside of Auckland, where alcohol was provided. 

The young woman told Maria Dew QC she became heavily intoxicated and does not recall the evening, but was involved sexually with a MediaWorks employee more than 20 years her senior. She said she woke up the next day unaware of the extent of any sexual conduct that had occured, and later contacted the employee to confirm what happened. 

"She became distressed and sought medical attention and police advice," the report said. 

"Since that time, the woman has reported suffering with serious psychological harm caused by the events of that evening and needing specialist counselling over a lengthy period.

"The impact of that evening has been significant for her." 

The MediaWorks employee in question, who remained unnamed, "denies any unlawful conduct but accepts and regrets the harm caused to the young woman by events that evening".

One male participant of the review said he found the matter "really disappointing" and was "disgusted" by it. 

"It felt brushed under the carpet... it feels good to talk about why it made me so angry as I am so passionate about MediaWorks." 

MediaWorks CEO Cam Wallace.
MediaWorks CEO Cam Wallace. Photo credit: supplied

The 'Boys' Club' culture was found to perpetuate "ongoing sexist and racist behaviours, repeated minimising of sexual harassment, failure to promote greater gender diversity, the misuse of alcohol and drugs and the lack of accountability for poor behaviour". 

Some of the sexist comments reportedly overheard in the workplace included: "Only hire hot" with reference to female employees and "Boys, this is why you don't hire mums".

One participant claimed there were "constant gross comments" made by male employees, including derogatory language like "slut" and "hoe" being openly used in the office. 

In addition to the sexual misconduct uncovered, the report found MediaWorks staffers had experienced racist conduct, with 20 percent of those interviewed reporting concerns about racism.

Staff members reported being told to "tone down the Māori" and recalled a comment about a particular station not doing well commercially as "brown people don't have money".

Women at the company are on average paid less than men with a disparity greater than the national average, the report said.

"Overall, MediaWorks average gender pay gap is 18 percent. Across MediaWorks Radio the pay gap is slightly less at 16.2 percent. In August 2020, Statistics NZ announced the median gender pay gap across New Zealand was 9.5 percent."

Additionally, 45 percent of females and 34 percent of males spoken to for the report "witnessed some form of bullying".

Among other concerns for staff members is the misuse of drugs and alcohol as part of a "party hard culture" at MediaWorks.

Twenty-five percent of interview participants reported concern related to cocaine and cannabis use at work-related events, but noted this is "widespread in the media industry".

MediaWorks announced in March it would be conducting an internal investigation after numerous allegations of sexual harassment, sexism, bullying and other misconduct emerged on Beneath The Glass Ceiling NZ. 

Around a week later, the radio company launched the independent inquiry by Maria Dew QC. 

Stuff reported that two male MediaWorks employees were temporarily stood down in the initial stages of the investigations, including one high-profile announcer who went on to resign. 

In April, Wallace sent an email to employees announcing the company's internal investigation had cleared current staff at The Rock radio station of any wrongdoing after accusations of misconduct were levelled at the station online and in the media.