No tolerance for sexual harassment of women in India's media, says IFJ

The IFJ joins its Indian affiliates, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) and the All India Newspaper Employees Federation, in calling for a "no tolerance" stance on sexual violence and harassment of female media workers, after reports of an alleged assault on a female journalist earlier this month. 

This most recent case follows a concerning pattern of incidents in India's media and heightened public awareness about a rising cases of sexual violence generally across the country. This includes the gang-rape of a photojournalist in the western Indian city of Mumbai on 22 August.

Tehelka magazine editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal is at the centre of the recent case, with two alleged incidents said to have taken place involving the same female journalist at a conference in Goa on November 8 and 9. Tejpal is reported as standing down from his position for six months.

Since the story hit Indian headlines last week, it has triggered a national debate over silence surrounding harassment and the need for stronger institutional mechanisms to investigate complaints in India's media, including adequate prosecution of perpetrators.  

The DUJ said: "It is high time that media organizations take this problem seriously, devise preventive strategies, create redressal mechanisms and foster a non-sexist culture at the workplace. The message must go out loud and clear to all employees, including managers, editors and others in authority, that sexual harassment will not be tolerated." 

In its statement, the IJU said it was "greatly disappointed with the magazine's response" which seemed to be more about protecting the editor than helping the female journalist. The IJU went on to say that the media "is the vanguard in identifying and highlighting wrongdoing" and should "pursue its own perpetrators with equal zeal" or risk impacting the credibility of the fourth estate.

The DUJ has written to the Press Council of India, the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women calling for the establishment of an internal complaints committee in every media organization in the country, within a stipulated timeframe.

The Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which was signed into law in India on 22 April, is a significant civil remedy that recognises women's right to a safe work environment free of sexual harassment. As such, the onus is on the employer, who is responsible for ensuring such an environment and is to be held liable in case of any violations. If the complainant wishes to pursue criminal prosecution, the employer is also duty bound to assist her in doing so. 

The IFJ said: "With more and more women entering the profession, we also know that they - more often than their male colleagues - are the subject of threats, harassment, violence and rape used as a tool to silence their voice. Sometimes it is by corrupt governments, sometimes the harassment is on the job and is aimed at removing them from the workforce. Sometimes, they are attacked or raped for doing their job."

IFJ Indian affiliates have reported that more courageous women are speaking out about sexual harassment at the workplace, by judges, politicians, and senior journalists. But recent experiences have shown that not only private media organisations, but even public broadcasters are not complying with laws on sexual harassment.

"Lives and journalistic careers can be jeopardized by a culture that, by inaction, condones a culture of sexual violence or harassment. This is a situation that simply cannot be tolerated," the IFJ said. 

The IFJ endorses the actions of its affiliates in taking a stand against harassment and sexual violence in the media in India. That means ensuring the safest possible working conditions for female media workers as they go about their daily duties; campaigns on gender equity and education on sexual harassment; and an independent and robust process for complaints that adequately takes into consideration the need for confidentiality for victims.

"India's media is confronting a debate that is long overdue," the IFJ said. "It is time that mechanisms are put in place, as required under the law, to ensure that the rule of law operates and perpetrators are brought to justice."