Fox News has reached an agreement with the New York Commission on Human Rights to pay a fine of one million dollars for sexual harassment at the company. The commission had been investigating since 2017. There are four complaints from women who were not named.
On the one hand, this is remarkable because the maximum fine in such a procedure, in which the Commission is involved, is $ 250,000 per case. So the maximum amount was imposed, nothing more was possible. On the other hand, the sum should be bearable for Fox News: The company was loud in 2020 before taxes New York Times around $ 3.1 billion.
More important than the money, therefore, in the larger context, Fox News has committed, as part of the agreement, to provide its employees with anti-harassment training, with a particular focus on how to deal with harassment without fear of repression can be reported. In addition, Fox News should no longer force the victims into an internal arbitration process and thus cut off from the public.
The fact that working conditions at Fox News were in the past highly problematic for women first came to the public in 2016, when the presenter Gretchen Carlson raised serious allegations against the then station boss Roger Ailes. He sexually molested her, and after she rejected his advances, he sabotaged her career.
Channel boss Ailes received a high severance payment when he left
First a wall of silence built up in the transmitter. But then more and more employees commented, including the prominent presenter Megyn Kelly. Not only Ailes was accused, there were concrete allegations in several cases against Bill O’Reilly, who was the face of the station for a long time, as well as against other nationally known moderators and reporters, as well as against executives in the bureaucracy.
Gretchen Carlson had evaded the then still mandatory internal arbitration process by suing Ailes directly. She got Fox News to pay her $ 20 million in compensation. According to several media reports, Fox News, the company’s insurance companies and Bill O’Reilly personally paid more than $ 200 million to settle the numerous allegations out of court.
What caused a stir at the time after Carlson’s lawsuit was not the high sums that Fox News paid for the out-of-court settlements with women, but above all the severance payment for the now deceased Roger Ailes, who is a close friend of the station owner Rupert Murdoch was. Ailes had to go on Carlson’s well-documented allegations. He received $ 40 million in compensation.
Fox News announced regarding the settlement with the New York Commission that these four cases were errors of the past. Since Suzanne Scott, and thus a woman for the first time, took over the management of the station in 2018, the corporate culture has changed completely, the old system no longer exists in the company.
Observers say: It’s not just Fox News that others in the industry have a problem too
In an interview with the SZ, media critic and feminist Jennifer Pozner recently described this supposedly old system as one in which sexual harassment in the newsrooms was not the exception, but rather the norm. And: The problem was and is not limited to Fox News. There were also prominent cases of abuse on broadcasters such as CBS or NBC News. It is considered certain by media observers that the number of unreported cases in the industry is high.
The fact that the previous system, which until recently was dominated by old and middle-aged white men, could change is shown not least by the fact that some large US television stations are now run by women. For example, as of this year, Kimberly Godwin has been at the helm of ABC News, the first woman and first African American. Rashida Jones has been running MSNBC since February.
Carmelyn Malalis, the chairwoman of the New York Human Rights Commission, hopes the case will send a signal. “If someone breaks the law and discriminates against or harasses other people, there will be heavy fines,” she said. She also hopes that similar agreements can be reached with other television stations that have also been harassed in the past. This applies particularly to the point that the allegations no longer have to be clarified internally and thus kept secret.
The countless cases in which the victims concluded settlements and usually signed a silence agreement are not affected by the current agreement.