Radio show: Workplace harassment must be reported

From left,  Martin Šmutov, Taavi Eilat and Sulev Vedler, on Saturday's
From left, Martin Šmutov, Taavi Eilat and Sulev Vedler, on Saturday's "Rahva teenrid". Source: Vikerraadio

Workplace harassment must be reported and not tolerated, panelists on Saturday's edition of Vikerraadio's "Rahva teenrid" discussion show found, in the light of this week's media reports of alleged long-running inappropriate jokes, comments, and physical contact by National Opera (Rahvusooper) director Aivar Mäe, towards women staff members.

Journalist Sulev Vedler, from investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress – the publication which first aired the allegations on Monday – said that some of those who had been at the receiving end of Mäe's attentions had been willing to do so under their own names, but the consensus was that sources – known by name to journalist Greete Lehepuu, who penned the piece, should remain anonymous in the article in order to avoid stigmatization.

Vedler noted that not only was there potential for police investigations, but also that Mäe had made jokes which were no longer appropriate in today's world, adding that this constitutes harassment if the butt of the joke had expressed their displeasure, only for the joking to continue along the same lines.

Editor-in-chief of daily Õhtuleht, Martin Šmutov, commenting on Aivar Mäe's promise to start censoring himself going forward, said that: "A person no longer groping is not 'self-censorship'".

The panel expressed surprise at the level of support from staff at the Estonia Theater, home of the National Opera and Ballet, which was put down in writing via signatures. Šmutov said that this in any case did not negate suffering on the part of potential victims.

"Harassment isn't some popularity contest, is it, meaning if there are plenty of signatures, it's no longer harassment?"

"I doubt that Aivar Mäe has peeked under [singer and actress] Helgi Sallo's clothes or pinched [baritone] Voldemar Kuslap's behind," he went on.

While the story published this week, Eesti Ekspress first got wind of the allegations in January, though these later tapered off (the theater remained closed through the coronavirus pandemic, with staff working remotely – ed.), only to reemerge more recently, leading to the article's publication.

Martin Šmutov noted that in harassment cases, a go-to person, be it head of a department, member of a supervisory board, or a shareholder in the case of the private sector, should be identified.

At the same time, this could be complicated by issues of seniority, repercussions on job position, conditions or salary etc., he said.

The original "Rahva teenrid" broadcast (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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