Five years ago, Marie Portolano, then a sports journalist with Canal+, was taken aback when her colleague, the French channel’s veteran soccer pundit, lifted her skirt and allegedly grabbed her in front of a studio audience.
She slapped Pierre Ménès, but was persuaded later by colleagues and friends not to make a fuss, fearing that if she took the matter further, it might wreck her television career. But now Portolano and other female sports journalists are making a fuss — they say they’ve had enough of enduring routine sexual harassment, including being groped.
More than 100 female journalists have gone public about the derogatory comments, lurid abuse and unwanted sexual advances they encounter every day — in and out of studios, on social media and in their meetings with sports stars.
In an angry open letter signed last month, 150 female sports journalists complained of the routine sexism they endure, including being paid less than their male colleagues and overlooked for the top slots. “It is time for us, female sports journalists, to unite and put pressure” on the industry, they wrote. “We intend to hold the ground. It starts now.”
Female sportscasters account for 13 percent of French sports coverage, according to media watchdogs.
Reporter 'humiliated, insulted'
The signatories to the open letter included Charlotte Namura-Guizonne, a former reporter on France’s most popular soccer show. She has tweeted about being “humiliated and insulted” in full view of colleagues and the audience. “No sanction. No apology. Never. Traumatized and that feeling of not being protected.”
The lifting of the lid on sexism and misogyny in French sports journalism has prompted a public uproar, which has mounted since Canal+ aired a documentary last month, presented by Portolano and titled “Je Ne Suis Pas une Salope, Je Suis une Journaliste” (“I Am Not a Slut, I Am a Journalist”).
In the documentary, Portolano and other prominent women journalists recount stories of sexism and speak about moral injury.
If Canal+ thought broadcasting the exposé would earn the channel some kudos, it hasn’t worked out that way. It later transpired that the channel had made two editorial cuts in a bid apparently to limit the damage to its star pundit Ménès.
One of the cuts featured Portolano confronting the 57-year-old pundit over the incident five years ago. He responded first by claiming he couldn’t recall lifting her skirt; then he shifted to saying he would do the same thing again. Finally, he joked that Portolano hadn’t dressed sexily enough for the interview.
The post-documentary uproar has resulted in Ménès' disappearing temporarily from TV screens, and it has forced Ménès into offering a public apology on Twitter, saying he regretted causing “pain and embarrassment to friends without ever intending to do so directly or indirectly.”
But he triggered a further storm by undercutting his apologies, complaining in a subsequent TV interview that because of the #MeToo movement, “One can no longer say or do anything.”
Other female journalists have added to the archive of harassment with stories about the abuse and manhandling they have encountered, and how they have been over the years largely sidelined by TV executives, with the top jobs all too often going to male colleagues.
TV rugby host Clémentine Sarlat revealed earlier this month that she quit France 2’s top rugby show two years ago because her co-presenter, Matthieu Lartot, was given, she said, favorable treatment over her. He was also paid more than she was. “I used to go to Stade 2 in tears. I was put in a separate office. I had to take my laptop to find out what was on the program,” she told L’Équipe, a daily sports newspaper.
“In the sports department, you mix with great people but also with total jerks,” she added.
In the open letter published in Le Monde newspaper, the 150 sports journalists said it was time for women to unite in order to stop being “discriminated against, harassed and rendered invisible.”
The signatories have formed a group, Collective of Female Sports Journalists, and they say they’ll continue to campaign in what is shaping up to be a #MeToo moment for French television and the country’s sports world, adding to revelations about misogyny and harassment roiling French politics and the country’s literary circles.
'We will speak up'
Anne-Laure Bonnet, a presenter on BeIN sports, has said publicly: “Some men are going to be frightened about us speaking up. They can be assured, we will speak up.”
But the female journalists stress that their campaign is not so much about the behavior of individual men. “The problem is not ‘one man,’ but the system that has allowed some men to act like this for years without ever being reprimanded,” tweeted Portolano.
French TV companies are scrambling to limit the damage of a scandal that is eroding their reputations. Several have said they are launching internal inquiries.