Creating without Conflict: creative industries a hotspot for bullying

The worlds of the media, arts and entertainments are often seen as glamorous, however a survey of 4,000 workers has revealed these industries are “hotspots” of bullying. More than half of those questioned (56%) said they had been bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work.

People who contributed to a survey, commissioned by the Federation of Entertainment Unions, ranged from household names, top screenwriters and performers to those at the beginning of their careers. The results showed shocking levels of ill-treatment and inappropriate behaviour and a culture of silence, with only a third of those suffering bullying and harassment reporting the incidents.

Eight out of 10 women (81%) who reported bullying, harassment and discrimination said their gender was a factor. The respondents reported incidents from lewd comments to sexual assault and commented on pressure from superiors to enter sexual relationships and unnecessary scripted nudity.

Women said they had to develop strategies to avoid sexual harassment as their career progressed, but then found they were discriminated against because of age and were viewed as beyond their shelf-life. One in ten respondents in theatre, television and film witnessed sexually-related harassment.

There is great competition to get in and get on in the theatre, TV, an orchestra or a newspaper, but the reality is most workers are freelance or work on short-term contracts and have few statutory rights. They fear there is always someone else hungry to take their place if they complain. The survey showed that there was almost an acceptance of the prevailing culture of bullying; an attitude of “if you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen”. One respondent said you were expected to put up with it “to earn your stripes and anything else was seen as a weakness”.

Bullying and harassment was recorded at all types of workplaces, including publically-funded national arts, music and media institutions in the UK and Ireland. For some, getting the job of their dreams became a nightmare because of the way they were treated by managers and colleagues. Managers were the main perpetrators, however, half the respondents identified co-workers and colleagues as offenders.

One common feature reported was that excuses were made for the “talent”, those known in the trade as the “BAFTA bastards”. These are individuals, in front of and behind the camera, front stage and back stage, who believe they are “untouchable” because of their status.
The survey showed that bullying in the newspaper sector was “exceptionally high”. The report, by Cathy John, senior lecturer in cultural theory and policy, at Arts University Bournemouth, said: “All survey respondents working in local papers had been bullied, harassed or discriminated against.” The figure for national papers was 74 per cent.

The survey showed that where bullying was reported, being a member of a union was more likely to lead to a successful outcome.

Michelle Stanistreet, National Union of Journalists general secretary, said: “It has been heart-breaking to deal with members whose dreams have been shattered because of the behaviour of their managers and of failure of employers to tackle bullying and bullies. I have heard testimonies from members who said, ‘News editors threw reporters on to the same story, everyone was terrified of putting a foot wrong. People were put under such pressure. Reporters were effectively encouraged to shaft each other. It was such a demoralising situation’ and from women journalists who had been offered promotion in return for having sex with their boss.

“We chose Creating without Conflict as the title of this conference and campaign because we want to promote workplaces where workers and managers learn to be constructive with their criticism during the creative process. Today’s conference was about how trade unions can look at solutions and strategies and work with employers to tackle this blight on the media, arts and entertainment industries.”

“When you have institutional imbalance – the vast majority of writers are freelance, and the vast majority of producers and script editors who hire them are salaried, with greater job security – what do you do? Discrimination is built into the power balance.” Screenwriter, 40s

“It’s a small industry – a ‘bad reputation’ (if you dare to stand up for yourself) will stay with you from company to company (and will cost you work).” Post-production worker, film, 30s

“There is an old-fashioned macho culture in which bullying is seen as almost an honour.” Journalist, 30s

The report, launched at a conference in London today (19 November), led to the following recommendations:

  • Better training should be provided for workers and management in dealing with unreasonable behaviour.
  • Clear guidance is provided for freelances by employers.
  • Union recognition in workplaces so that reps can negotiate anti-bullying policies and represent victims.
  • Confidential hotlines for freelance and employed workers.

The full report is available from the NUJ Communications Department.

The Federation of Entertainment Unions represents workers in TV, theatre, film, music, gaming, cinema, publishing, newspapers, new media, professional football and other performing arts. The FEU comprises BECTU, Equity, The Musicians’ Union, the NUJ, the Professional Footballers’ Association, Unite and The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.