Indian journalists speaking out against sexual harassment have reignited India’s #MeToo movement. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) and the National Union of Journalists, India (NUJI) in expressing solidarity with any journalists subjected to harassment in India’s media and calls on media companies to conduct urgent investigations into claims and strengthen sexual harassment policies.
Accusations have been levelled at reporters, senior editors and public officials over sexual misconduct on social media in the past week. At least two newspapers have launched investigations, while Hindustan Times’ chief of bureau and political editor Prashant Jha stepped down from management roles after screenshots of alleged text messages with a colleague were posted online.
Seven women wrote to the Times of India with allegations of sexual misconduct against its Hyderabad resident editor, KR Sreenivas, for unwanted touching, explicit messages and sexual propositions. According to the New York Times, Sreenivas is on a leave of absence to allow a free and fair inquiry and an independent committee has been set up to look into the matter.
Another seven women journalists are on record accusing former journalist and editor and now Minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar, of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior during his time in the media. Many other journalists have followed in the wake of these stories to name other reporters and editors with accusations of sexual misconduct.
IJU president S N Sinha, in a statement, said: “We extend our support and solidarity to the women journalists, who went through harrowing experience at their work place and gathered courage now to expose the skeletons in the media cupboards. They brought into open long whispered information in the newsrooms about the unbecoming and at times criminal behavior of those in senior positions.”
The Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) condemned ‘the rampant sexism and misogyny in Indian newsrooms’, demanding media organisations probe the allegations and take appropriate actions.
The Editors Guild of India also extended “its total support to all women journalists, who suffered a disadvantage in their careers, physical or mental trauma, as a result of any sexual predation” while calling upon media organizations to hold unbiased inquiries into all reported cases.
The IJU has demanded that all media managements implicated should set up mandatory Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) to deal with the cases as they arise.
The IJU said: “In fact, the IJU State Unions across the country have been demanding such committees as per the Supreme Court directive, but sadly very few managements have done so. The government should take action against the media managements who did not put in to place ICCs immediately.”
NUJ(I) also demanded that central government should take a note of it and constitute a high level judicial committee to probe the allegations.
Established cultures of sexual harassment in newsrooms have been well documented by the IFJ and its affiliates through in-depth research since 2015. In light of the latest allegations, the IFJ again underlines the importance for zero tolerance to sexual harassment in media and urges all media organizations in India to commit to establishing independent mechanism to investigate allegations and take appropriate action against the perpetrators, while respecting the privacy and vulnerability of women who are brave enough to take their issues forward for action and support.”
In a report on October 9, Scroll.in noted that the #MeToo movement was revealing a wide disparity between the national media and the regional press in terms of working cultures, and how structures of accountability and impunity operate. Meanwhile many women journalists at vernacular media houses in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala remain unable to speak out about workplace harassment, let alone file formal complaints, for fear of the repercussions. Scroll reported that barely any of these organisations had internal complaints committees and where they did, there were not functioning.
The IFJ said: “It’s long overdue that the media industry in India takes stock of the gravity and vast scope of sexual harassment in the Indian media and the ongoing implications on the health of the journalism industry. This latest outpouring of allegations stems from the clear frustration that too little is being done to counter this problem which continues to push women journalists out of work and media workplaces in India.”
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