Sexual harassment of women journalists continues to be a major problem in Fijian journalism and “the issues of power lie at the heart of this”, new research has revealed.

The study published in Journalism Practice by researchers from the University of Vienna and the University of the South Pacific highlights there is a serious need to address the problem which is fundamental to press freedom and quality journalism.

“We find that sexual harassment is concerningly widespread in Fiji and has worrying consequences,” the study said.

“More than 80 percent of our respondents said they were sexually harassed, which is an extremely worryingly high number.”

The researchers conducted a standardised survey of more than 40 former and current women journalists in Fiji, as well as in-depth interviews with 23 of them.

One responded said: “I had accepted it as the norm…lighthearted moments to share laughter given the Fijian style of joking and spoiling each other. At times it does get physical. They would not do it jokingly. I would get hugs from the back and when I resisted, he told me to just relax; it’s just a hug.”

Another, speaking about a time she was sent to interview a senior government member, said: “I was taken into his office where the blinds were down and where I sat through an hour of questions about who I was sleeping with, whether I had a boyfriends…and it followed with a proposal of a long-term sexual relationship.”

The researchers said while more than half of the journalistic workforce was made up of women “violence against them is normalised by men.”

They said the findings of the study show sexual harassment has a range of negative impacts which affects the women’s personal freedom to work but also the way in which news in produced.

“Women journalist may decide to self-censor their reporting for fear of reprisals, not cover certain topics anymore, or even leave the profession altogether.

“The negative impacts that our respondents experienced clearly have wider repercussions on the ways in which wider society is informed about news and current affairs.”