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10th Editors’ Conclave: #MeToo takes centre stage

Editors condemn sexual harassment at workplace during 10th annual Conclave, point out challenges that journalists must be aware of.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

On the second day of the 10th Editors’ Conclave organised by the CR Irani Foundation, speakers discussed at length the issue the #MeToo movement that has taken the journalism world by storm in India.

Speaking on the occasion, retired IAS officer Tuktuk Ghosh said the movement came in as an import, and with celebrities getting involved, the common mass dived into it. Citing the example of veteran journalist MJ Akbar, she said: “When this broke out, he (Akbar) was shameless, and he brazened it out with the support of the government.”

“I am not at all sympathetic towards MJ Akbar,” she said, adding: “He did not get fired and he merely stepped down to cut slack on one of the many cases filed against him. And he has all the means to fight the allegations, so good luck to him.”

Elaborating on the topic, Ms Ghosh said that women should make sure that they complain about any kind of sexual abuse, no matter what kind of position the accused holds. “Make sure you demand the implementation of the laws that are in place because no one will hold your hand and rescue you. Take things into your own hands and make use of the constitution,” she added.

Seema Mustafa, editor-in-chief of The Citizen, said: “We still live in a man’s world and have to deal with “toxic behaviour” in our workspace,” adding. “when I was a young journalist, I had to fight to get a woman’s washroom built in the office and report on crime and politics, which were dominated by male journalists.”

She also claimed that MJ Akbar “hit on” young girls while he was at The Asian Age and while she supports the #MeToo movement, she feels that it largely “hinges on celebrities and not on ordinary folk”. She concluded, saying: “As a journalist… I question the government. I will not accept any kind of movement without questioning it.”

Raj Kamal Jha, chief editor of The Indian Express, said that the movement, according to him, “has underlined the need to call-out the abuse of power”. He said that certain actions should not be indulged in, since they are not morally justified and not because they are illegal. “I feel that if the best answer to India is a coalition government then the best answer to journalism is a coalition leadership,” he stated in his closing remarks.

Mr Sidharth Bhatia, founder-editor of The Wire, said that the movement has gone into an entirely wrong direction. While strongly condemning sexual harassment at the workplace, Mr Bhatia said that making anonymous allegations on social media platforms without substantiating them through legal process is wrong and unacceptable.

READ | State of media in focus at 10th Editors’ Conclave

Mr Pradip Phanjoubam, editor, Imphal Free Press, spoke about the harassment faced by women, stating crimes like sexual assault and molestation against women happen in workplaces mostly because of dominance and power of position.

Mr Krishna Prasad, former editor of Outlook, focussed on the threats that journalists are facing nowadays. “Sexual harassment is definitely a threat for journalists but there are other serious problems too,” he said.

“We must not turn it into a festival. Out there it is not an ocean of sharks. It is the journalists coming into the profession who have to be careful in terms of dealing with the problems that they are going to face in the field. There have been instances of killing and assaulting journalists in places like West Asia. So there are several threats in this field; journalists have to be aware of these,” he added.

Mr Mukund Padmanabhan, editor of The Hindu, talked of the complaints of women in India, something that is quite similar to the west. Relating it to the past, he said: “The culture in workspace was very different then. Men in power were allowed to get away with a lot more than they are today.”

Moderating the open house session, Mr Shameek Sen, assistant professor of National University Juridical Sciences (NUJS), posed several questions to the students of the Statesman Print Journalism School (SPJS) and NUJS. On being asked about the safety and security of journalists in the workplace and how they cover any oppressive incidents, Mr Nakshatra Pain, a student of SPJS said that while he was aware of the risks associated with the job, he would still aim to publish the reports on the marginalised, poor and voiceless sections of the society. It’s a choice we have made on our own, he added.

Another student, Mr Sakshat Chandok, echoed the hope by saying that they must rise above the fear of criticism, oppression and attacks from various quarters. Speaking on the alleged incidents of sexual harassment in the newsroom, Ms Ratnamanjari Chakraborty of SPJS acknowledged that the menace should be addressed, not blown out of proportion.

NUJS students cited a real incident while pointing out some practical flaws in our legal system and implementation. Mr Tejas Popat referred to an incident in which slum dwellers were being forcefully evicted by the goons of a political party and administration was unable to apply the laws which are there to protect them.

Ms Himani Shah, another student, said that in spite of laws being in existence, it will take decades to change the mindset of the people. Mr Prashant Shukla expressed concern about the fact that 92 per cent of workforce is in the informal sector and there is no mechanism to safeguard the interest of women workers there. Mr Sen winded up the Conclave by asserting that institutional autonomy needs to be strengthened and both lawyers and journalists, have crucial roles to play in it.