The Guardian and its sister paper the Observer have rightly taken a strong moral stand in print and online over allegations of sexual impropriety in the workplace. Yet now they face acute embarrassment after claims against one leading columnist.
Jo Maugham, the barrister who runs the Good Law Project, has spoken to a number of women who have talked about their experiences in relation to Observer writer Nick Cohen and others, but lawyers for the paper state that none of them wanted to make a formal complaint. The Observer has since “paused” Cohen’s column as he co-operates with an ongoing investigation. Cohen has described the allegations made against him as “vile and untrue”.
One former employee of the newspaper group, addressing wider concerns about the way it handles such issues, told the media industry website Press Gazette that she felt the publisher had “actively discouraged” complaints and that the “complaint culture is not fit for purpose”.
Four or five years ago, a group of 30 to 40 female journalists at the Guardian demanded a meeting with editor-in-chief Kath Viner to complain of a culture of misogyny and sexist bullying within the newsrooms.
The meeting, held in the Scott Room, was anticipated to be a turning point in what was seen as a rotten culture, one which Viner had promised to redress as she campaigned for election to the top job.
A source told Mandrake: “It was a very intense meeting and hopes were high that things would change as a consequence. But nothing concrete happened. The Guardian’s primary concern is to protect its image. Maybe words were had with a few individuals, but for such a serious showdown to result in absolutely zero official response was something many staff found abysmal.
“Many have since left the Guardian and Observer with a bitter taste in their mouths. If this was the Sun or the Mail, you can bet the Guardian would be all over the story like a rash. There is a great sense of disappointment that the organisation has not behaved better.”
Now it seems the wheels of investigation are finally in motion. It is expected to shine a spotlight on how complaints have been handled at the paper over a number of years… examining the behaviours and attitudes of individuals at the very top of the organisation.