Network of Women in Media India “extremely disturbed” by harassment of women in Indian media

Network of Women in Media India “extremely disturbed” by harassment of women in Indian media

New Delhi, October 9 ( Network of Women in Media India (NWMI)  has issued a statement saying that it is “extremely disturbed” to read accounts where accused in multiple cases of harassment enjoy impunity and continue to work in newsrooms unchecked.

“We strongly condemn the rampant sexism and misogyny in Indian newsrooms that not only allows sexual harassment to go unchecked but also promotes a culture of silence, victim blaming and moral policing,” NWMI said and made the following demands:

1. All media organisations, including journalism colleges and departments, journalist unions and press clubs, must take suo moto cognizance of the accounts of survivors, institute inquiries and take appropriate action.

2. All media organisations and journalism colleges must have policies to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace and set up properly constituted Internal Committees (IC) in keeping with mandatory requirements of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, with every member trained to handle complaints. All ICs must be headed by a woman, half the members must be women, and the ICs must have one impartial external woman expert in law or women’s rights. IC members must be accessible and empathetic to complaints and inquire into them in a time-bound manner, and managements must take prompt action based on the recommendations of the IC. The process for initiating a complaint also needs to be made known widely.

3. All media organisations and journalism colleges must ensure that details of the anti-sexual harassment policy and the constitution of the IC are widely circulated/publicised/displayed within their organisations and on their websites. The consequences of sexual harassment must be clearly outlined in job contracts and code of conduct manuals.

4. Given the nature of journalism itself, ICs and employers must be sensitised to take up complaints that arise out of employment that includes being in the field and interacting with a wide range of sources. Editors must ensure that stories are not privileged over the safety of their staff.

5. In keeping with the Sexual harassment Act (SH Act), 2013, freelancers and stringers, who are among the most vulnerable to sexual harassment, given their job insecurity must also be brought under the purview of anti-sexual harassment policies and the jurisdiction of Internal Committees of the media houses they contribute to.

6. All media organisations and journalism college must provide assistance to the complainant if she so chooses to file a complaint in relation to the offence under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being in force;

7. All media organisations and journalism colleges must have policies for gender mainstreaming and also conduct gender sensitisation workshops at least twice a year in order to promote an atmosphere of gender equality and equity.

8. All media organisations and journalism colleges should provide professional counselling to both survivors and those accused of sexual harassment.

9. The allegations that have surfaced so far also merit journalistic follow-up. Instead of burying the story, big media/legacy organisations should follow up these stories in terms of reports with due diligence. The media must shine the light on ourselves in order to break the entrenched impunity for perpetrators of sexual harassment at the workplace.

NWMI is available to provide support to survivors who want to speak up, and to support/ strengthen Internal Committees.

The Wire said in a editorial that the tsunami of revelations by women media professionals about being harassed by their bosses and colleagues has brought out into the open a dreadful pathology that was only whispered about so far.

At one time, the predators got away with their behaviour. No longer. Inspired by the growing momentum worldwide – triggered by the #MeToo movement in the United States, in which women came out publicly to shame their harassers – Indian survivors have begun to step forward. It is not as if they did not speak out earlier. Actor Tanushree Dutta had in the past, almost immediately after the incident, complained about how she felt uncomfortable at the way co-star Nana Patekar had forced her to do suggestive dance steps. No one took the slightest notice; even now, after speaking out again, she finds herself being targeted.

Fortunately others, especially in journalism, have taken up the gauntlet. In the past 48 hours, survivors have come forward and provided credible accounts of specific incidents in which editors have forced themselves on journalists working under them, as well as of instances of workplace harassment by male colleagues, and persistent and unwanted sexual attention. Each incident is traumatic but when it comes bundled with a power dynamic, the effect is especially deadly – for the survivor, for the organisation where it takes places and for journalism as a profession.

Journalism is not as rigidly hierarchical a profession as others; a newsroom is a fluid space quite unlike any other. Yet bosses can and do pull a lot of weight. Women, especially rookies in the profession, become easy targets of those higher up the editorial chain who have the power to make or mar their careers. What is common to the incidents that survivors have narrated is that managements took little or no note of their complaints – obviously because they lacked clout in the organisation, thus making it doubly difficult to get any justice. .

That situation is not only untenable but totally unacceptable. Things cannot go on like this anymore. While there are concerns that names could be unfairly dragged in, accounts that contain details of who, what, where and how must be investigated, at the very least by the internal complaints committees of the various media organisations involved. Women who speak out, giving their names and the exact sequence of events about incidents of harassment, do not do so frivolously; they know that there could be a price involved. At the very least, other powerful people and organisations may shun them. Yet if they are ready to make specific complaints, then these deserve to be investigated.

(The featured image at the top is a cartoon on sexual harassment at the work place.Courtesy HuffPost)