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NBC News Sexual Misconduct Controversy Draws Small Protest Outside 30 Rock

A handful of protestors gathered outside NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Center on Wednesday to demand the ouster of top NBC News executives for the network’s handling of internal sexual misconduct allegations, among other issues.

The feminist advocacy org UltraViolet organized a demonstration outside of NBC News headquarters to deliver a petition with nearly 20,000 signatures calling for the firing of NBC News president Noah Oppenheim and MSNBC president Phil Griffin. Oppenheim recently signed a new contract with NBC News and is expected to succeed Andy Lack as chairman of the division after the 2020 presidential election.

NBC News has been at the center of controversy for two weeks amid the publication of Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill,” which details what he describes as NBC’s effort to quash his reporting on sexual assault allegations against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Farrow criticizes NBC News for its handling of internal sexual misconduct and harassment claims, most notably those involving former “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, who was fired in November 2017.

The petition calls for the firing of Oppenheim and Griffin, the waiver of non-disclosure agreements tied to any NBC News-related sexual harassment settlements and for an independent internal audit into the company. UltraViolet even urges NBCUniversal parent company Comcast to cancel the upcoming Democratic primary debate hosted by MSNBC until Comcast and NBC address what UltraViolet asserts is a systemic pattern of abuse.

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Around 10 protestors carried signs reading “Survivors demand justice at NBC,” and chanted phrases such as “Who do we believe? Survivors. What do we need? Justice.”

As the gathering came together around noon ET, NBC News’ HR department issued an internal memo detailing the steps the division has taken in an effort to improve workplace culture since the Lauer scandal erupted two years ago. “For example, we’ve increased the number of women in senior leadership positions at NBC News — now 63% women, a 20% improvement in the last two years,” O’Brien wrote. “More than 50% of employees are women and almost every significant senior editorial role is now held by a woman.”

When asked why she attended the rally, Alice Dunsker, 72, said that everyone should feel comfortable in the workplace.

“I feel strongly that a workplace should be a stable place for everyone and that NBC should investigate with a non-biased investigatory person and a group to clean house and make sure that everyone at all the TV stations have a free a comfortable place to work. No one should feel compromised or that they have to do something to keep a job,” said Dunsker.

Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet, said she hopes that NBC listens and “takes it seriously” to “protect the people they employ.”

“We’re seeing more and more people coming out every single day to talk about their experiences inside the company. And so far, [NBC] has done nothing,” Thomas said. “They resigned Noah Oppenheim’s contract despite these looming allegations about him being involved in a cover-up, they have done exclusively an internal investigation which concluded the opposite of what we’ve learned in Ronan Farrow’s book ‘Catch and Kill.’ ”

One outspoken protestor, Staceyann Chin, 46, made her sign on the ground in front of NBC Studios, which read “NBC! You can’t be trusted to report the news if you are suppressing it. Signed, survivors. #Time’s Up.” When asked what NBC can do to remedy the situation, Chin said she wanted to a sense of “trustworthiness” and an apology.

“An apology for seedy behavior and letting us down and just being untrustworthy. If we need anything now, we need trustworthiness,” Chin said. “We need people who can speak and we can trust what they say. From the White House to the news anchors. We need truth tellers, people who can speak truth to power right now so that those of us who are feeling voiceless and overwhelmed and tired,” said Chin.

Thomas called NBC executives “cowards” for failing to send a representative down to the street to engage with protestors. The petition was finally delivered to Jim Hall, director of security for the building, who accepted Thomas’ flash drive and said he would pass it along to his lawyers who would then get it to the network.

Here is the full memo sent to employees by Joanne O’Brien, senior VP of human resources for NBC News and MSNBC.

Dear All,

Two years ago, NBC News made a solemn commitment to our employees: We would improve our culture in order to eliminate harassment – in all forms – and improve reporting of harassment and accountability if and when it occurs. This was our priority, and we went to work immediately.

Since then, we’ve made significant progress. We conducted in-person training for all employees on workplace behavior (2,145 employees completed), we’ve added new training so that managers are better equipped to build trust with their employees (562 managers completed) and we’ve included in managers’ performance reviews an assessment of their success in creating a positive work environment.

In addition, NBCUniversal has established additional confidential reporting outside of NBC News, including a new team to take and investigate concerns, and an independent hotline for NBC News employees staffed by attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw. We’ve also significantly improved awareness among employees of the multiple ways you can raise concerns. In the recent employee survey, 91% of you agreed that you “know how to raise concerns about workplace behavior,” that’s an increase of 12% over two years ago.

We also recognize that – alongside these important changes – there are broader components of our culture that deserve focus. For example, we’ve increased the number of women in senior leadership positions at NBC News – now 63% women, a 20% improvement in the last two years.  More than 50% of employees are women and almost every significant senior editorial role is now held by a woman.

We are constantly assessing our progress to ensure we have a workplace where everyone feels respected and comfortable in raising concerns. We have more work to do, but the changes we’ve made have had a positive impact on culture across the division.

Below is an overview of the changes we have made, as well as – importantly – another reminder of the various ways you can report concerns.

Raising Concerns:

  *   Access to a new team of experts in managing employee concerns – the NBCUniversal Fair Employment Practices team. The team sits with NBC Universal Legal, independent of the News division, to take and investigate concerns. They have been actively helping employees with concerns for over a year

  *   Added a new hotline for NBC News employees staffed by outside attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw, the firm that conducts our in-person training
  *   We have significantly raised awareness of the multiple ways to share concerns and have injected more immediacy and measurable transparency into the process of raising and resolving concerns.
  *   As we often share, there are many options for employees to raise concerns, including anonymously. Here is a reminder of those options
     *   Talk to your supervisor or another local leader
     *   Talk to HR – anyone in NBC News/MSNBC HR or NBCUniversal HR
     *   Talk to Legal – anyone in News Legal or NBCU Employment Legal, including the Fair Employment Practices Team
     *   Contact an NBCUniversal Ombudsperson
     *   Contact the Comcast NBCUniversal Listens Helpline (877-40-LISTENS) or the Comcast NBCUniversal Listens Web Portal (comcastnbcuniversallistens.com)
     *   Call the Seyfarth Shaw hotline on 888-550-6882

In-person Employee Trainings:

  *   In 2018, implemented “Respect in the Workplace” in-person training for all employees of NBC News & MSNBC (2,145 employees)
  *   In 2019, implemented new mandatory on-line “Respect in the Workplace” training
  *   Developed a new training course for managers focused on building trust and effective leadership. 90% of managers have completed the training to date (562)

Improving People Leadership Skills:

  *   People leadership has always been important to success at NBC News & MSNBC. We have put even greater emphasis on leadership skills. We’ve created new customized manager training in addition to existing classes and continue to support managers with 1-1 expert coaching when needed

Stronger Gender Diversity in Leadership Positions at NBC and MSNBC:

  *   NBC News’ senior leadership is now 63% women, a 20% improvement in the last 2 years
  *   Of all the leadership roles at NBC News & MSNBC, 53% are held by women
  *   Almost every significant senior editorial role at NBC News is now held by a woman, including at Nightly News, all four hours of TODAY, Dateline, NBC News Specials, NBC News Now, NBC News Digital, TODAY Digital and Peacock Productions. At MSNBC, ten executive producers are women, as is the head of MSNBC Digital

Moving forward, we’ll continue to give you opportunities to share feedback and measure our progress. And we will continue to refine and improve our programs as we strive to make sure everyone feels they have a safe and respectful workplace. Nothing is more important.

Sincerely,

Joanne O’Brien
SVP Human Resources, NBC News & MSNBC

(Pictured: Shaunna Thomas of UltraViolet speaks during the protest outside NBC headquarters)

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