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Citing continued inclusion of Akbar, Tejpal, Gautam Adhikari on rolls, Mrinal Pande, Mythili Bhusnurmath resign from Editors Guild of India

Two members of the Editors Guild of India have resigned, citing the continued presence of MJ Akbar, Gautam Adhikari — whose names featured among those accused of sexual harassment in the ongoing #MeTooIndia movement — and Tarun Tejpal, in the same group.

Veteran journalist and former Prasar Bharati chair Mrinal Pande and economist and The Economic Times' consulting editor Mythili Bhusnurmath were the two members who quit the Guild in protest.

M.J. Akbar (4th L), India's Former Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs, leaves a court after a hearing in a defamation suit he filed against a female journalist in New Delhi, India, October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis - RC138A48C8A0

MJ Akbar (fourth from left), continues to be on the members' list of the Editors Guild of India. REUTERS

The Editors Guild of India — a body that was set up in 1978 to protect press freedom and raise standards of editorial leadership in Indian newsrooms — had released a list of their members' names on 15 November. The list, which included the names of Akbar and Adhikari, against whom multiple women have raised allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and Tejpal, who is currently out on bail on a 2013 rape charge, met with backlash from the journalistic community.

The spokesperson for the Guild, veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta told Firstpost that a letter was sent to Akbar regarding the allegations levelled against him. "Akbar has been sent a letter. The Guild's executive will deliberate on the reply if we receive one. We haven't received anything from him yet. The executive committee is taking a call on this issue."

Gupta said that the the Guild's executive committee was discussing this issue and "will arrive at a conclusion by Wednesday."

Gupta also said that in the light of the MeToo movement in India, members of the Guild are discussing various redressal mechanisms which will be followed if members were found to be mired in a sexual harassment case.

Noted journalists like Nidhi Razdan, among others had tweeted to the Guild, asking why Akbar, Adhikari and Tejpal still featured on its members' list.

In a report dated 17 November The Wire stated that Pande and Bhusnurmath had sent emails to the Guild, expressing their discomfort over the double standards in allowing the men to continue despite the allegations against them. Pande's email was sent in the aftermath of one of the Guild's members, Nai Duniya editor Shahid Siddiqui, exhorting that the group take a "moral stand but also follow procedures".

The Wire report notes that Pande expressed her displeasure at Siddiqui’s statement, calling the Guild a “club”, and accusing it of “chicanery”. She expressed her intention to resign from the group.

"I decided to resign (purely in my personal capacity) since I felt the Guild was not reacting to a matter that I -- as a senior journalist and a woman -- considered very important professionally," Pande told Firstpost.

"Initially, after I sent out my resignation to members, I was advised by some senior editors who are also good friends, to hold back since a suitable course of action by the Guild was being decided as per its rules. What was finally decided by the managing committee and circulated as the future course of action among members, seemed to me like just buying time and postponing a clear stand. So I've decided to discontinue my long association with the body with some sadness," Pande added. "I respect the Guild and the work it has done in the past.It has a perfect right to interpret its rules as it sees fit, and I wish it well."

Meanwhile, the other member who resigned — Mythili Bhusnurmath — said she had initially "kept her counsel" as the allegations against Akbar, while overwhelming, had not been proven in a court of law. Later, however, on reading journalist Pallavi Gogoi's #MeToo storynaming Akbar, Bhusnurmath found the Guild's "spinelessness" revolting and decided to resign.

Bhusnurmath told Firstpost of her stance: "In fairness, he (Akbar) is innocent until proven guilty. But when there are many allegations and not just one, the Guild can definitely at least suspend his membership until his name is cleared."

She said that to her knowledge, the Guild had had no discussions over the protocol or mechanisms to follow if any of its members were accused of sexual harassment or misconduct.

"Frankly, I haven’t attended any of the meetings of the Guild and it has been a pretty ineffective body. It is there on paper but it hasn’t done much to show for itself," she said, adding, "The very least the Guild can do is suspend the accused. The Guild is not an investigative body so it has to leave it to the investigative authorities to find out what the veracity of the accusations is. Beyond that the Guild cannot do anything at the moment, but in general matters also, the Guild has not played an effective role."

The Guild had on 2 November issued a statement that clarified MJ Akbar's membership was "dormant". The statement read:

"The Editors Guild of India is tracking with great concern fresh, and serious allegations of sexual misconduct against former editor MJ Akbar. He is a past president of the Guild, and continues to be a member.

In accordance with the decision of the Guild’s last EGM, as ratified at the subsequent meeting of the executive, membership of those editors, whose profession has changed from journalism goes dormant. Mr Akbar’s membership is also therefore dormant.

The Guild executive is discussing further course of action. As provided by the Guild’s Constitution, the executive committee is writing to him to respond to these allegations. His response will then be put up to the executive. A decision on his membership will be taken once this due process is completed."

On 18 October, the Guild released a statement requesting Akbar to drop his defamation suit against Priya Ramani, among the women who has accused the ex-Union minister and former editor of misconduct.

A previous statement reiterated The Guild's commitment to ensuring that newsrooms in India remained safe and fair for all, in light of #MeToo allegations that highlighted harassment faced by female journalists at the workplace or in professional situations.

What other Guild members have to say:

Shobhaa De, writer —

It is exceedingly important for the Guild to take a position and make it clear were its members stand on this issue. I am disappointed with the disingenuous response and the irritating waffling with regards to those who stand accused of serious charges. Expulsion sends out a strong zero tolerance signal and one expects nothing less at this point.

Patricia Mukhim, editor, The Shillong Times —

I had suggested to the Guild that we should drop the names of former editors accused of rape even when the case against them is ongoing. But resigning from the Guild serves no purpose. We should be able to make our points and push for better action by being its members.

Kavita Devi, digital head, Khabar Lahariya —

I strongly condemn the continued inclusion of MJ Akbar, Gautam Adhikari, and Tarun Tejpal in the Guild. I have been in talks with the members of the committee and have already communicated my absolute displeasure about this to Shekhar Gupta. I respect the decisions made by both Mrinal Pande and Mythili Bhusnurmath, and intend to tender my resignation too, if there is no strong action taken or statement against their inclusion by the committee, soon.


Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 12:36 PM

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