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Latest 12 June 2023

Guardian News & Media to act on sexual misconduct

Roberto Herrett / Alamy Stock Photo

Guardian News & Media has instructed Howlett Brown, a consultancy specialising in workplace culture, to improve its process for handling current and non-recent claims of sexual misconduct.

Last month we wrote of how we had supported a number of women to tell their stories about sexual misconduct by a columnist at the Observer newspaper. Those stories were covered in a devastating piece a fortnight ago in the New York Times; our domestic media having been reluctant to cover sexual misconduct by its own.

Good Law Project has also been talking to a number of further victims, some historic and some continuing, of other journalists at the Guardian/Observer stable. After publication of the New York Times article, we wrote to the Guardian to put pressure upon it to deliver culture change.

Today we have learned that Guardian News and Media (GNM) – which owns the Observer – has improved its process for handling current and non-recent claims of sexual misconduct by instructing Howlett Brown, a consultancy specialising in workplace culture. It has also been asked to report to GNM’s management on any necessary workplace and cultural change. We do not yet know their full terms of reference – we will update this blog if they become available – but this is a step forward.

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We are also aware that Kath Viner has, quite properly, written to least one victim of sexual misconduct at the Observer to apologise both for her experience of sexual harassment – and for how her complaint was handled. We understand that similar apologies will follow to other victims.

Lucy Siegle, who suffered a sexual assault at the Observer and was then dissuaded from complaining, said: “I feel an immense relief at getting this apology from Kath Viner and Anna Bateson. Obviously I could’ve been saved a huge amount of anguish had it come sooner, but it seems to me to be a pretty comprehensive admission of failure, and that has removed a huge weight from my shoulders. I hope it will be followed by clear culture change and apologies for other women affected. But I’m really clear, without Jolyon and Good Law Project I would never have been able to get to this point. And without reporters who were prepared to get sunlight on this – most notably Jane Bradley and the New York Times – I don’t think this would ever have arrived.”

Culture change is difficult – it requires that institutions take financial and reputational risks and that senior leaders commit themselves to seeing it through, whatever it takes. It is too early to say whether GNM’s initiative will deliver the change needed to protect its, in particular, women, employees and freelancers. But this is a start. 

We exist, at Good Law Project, to try and ensure the law isn’t used by the wealthy and powerful to shut down scrutiny. We want to acknowledge the courage of Lucy Siegle, who was sexually assaulted – and spoke out despite the personal cost. We want to lend our strength to those who need it in their fight for accountability. And we are proud of the role we have played delivering this change.