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#MeToo revelations on newsroom abusers deal severe blow to a media already suffering from low credibility

Imagine a man with a knee injury limping to hospital and then falling into a ditch and breaking his ankle. That’s the state of the Indian media after the #MeToo outpourings exposed many journalists as sexual predators. And this came at a time when the media’s credibility crashed to an all-time low after the Narendra Modi phenomenon hopelessly polarised it.

Add high libido to low credibility. You have a double whammy that is taking its rightful toll on so-called journalists who wallow in the myth of being a species equipped with a superior intellect and power that they believe entitle them to advise governments on how to run countries—and to molest women colleagues.

Readers are smart enough to notice the common feature in the way the so-called mainstream media handled both the post-Modi polarisation and the ongoing #MeToo avalanche. In both cases, the media has exhibited a remarkable lack of maturity and exposed itself as an institution that is still a work in progress, nowhere near being a fully evolved entity that the world’s largest democracy can pride itself in.

This happened despite the fact that political polarisation and erosion of credibility are by no means unique to Indian media. For some years now, this trend has been visible even in developed democracies, including even the United States, after Donald Trump stormed into the White House. But what’s unnerving about the Indian media is not that journalists take stands either supporting or opposing Modi, but the singular lack of tolerance one side has for the other and the contempt that both have for those journalists who try to be neutral.

The result of this was that readers in India, as those across the world, began to turn to non-conventional sources of news like online news portals. At the same time, the digital revolution made Twitter a primary platform where news was consumed first. The 2018 Reuters Institute Digital News Report that covered 37 countries also showed a continuing rise in the use of messaging apps like WhatsApp for news. Nobody attributes this rise to only the growth of internet. In a large measure, the loss of credibility of conventional media forced readers to take to readily available alternative sources.

A protester raises a placard reading "#MeToo" during a rally against harassment. File image. Reuters

A protester raises a placard reading "#MeToo" during a rally against harassment. File image. Reuters

Twitter is "mainline" #MeToo medium

But in the case of the #MeToo campaign, the plight of the mainstream media in India is worse. From being an important platform for news consumption, Twitter became the only place that disseminated information on #MeToo. Most newspapers covered in detail sexual harassment allegations against actors and others, but were almost silent when journalists were named.

Besides creating a workplace environment that either encourages—or turns a blind eye to— sexual bullying by senior journalists, the media has almost maintained a distressing silence on the utter depravity of its own staff in the aftermath of #MeToo.

Potential for the misuse of #MeToo for targeting innocent men or for personal score-settling notwithstanding, the media must in all honesty acknowledge at least now what the ongoing movement has exposed: Sexual harassment of women journalists is a shameful reality and is more rampant than we had all along suspected. Nearly as absurd is the attempt by some who are jumping on to the #MeToo bandwagon to call out every instance of mild and juvenile flirtation. However, that doesn’t rob most of the accusations of prima facie authenticity.

Any attempt to make broad generalisations about either men or women in the backdrop of this campaign is preposterous, but what’s more dangerous is the failure to recognise that a good number of women journalists are victims of men’s testosterone excesses almost on a daily basis.

Virtually not a day passes in a newspaper office when you don’t hear lewd comments, even from senior editors, on the physical appearance of women colleagues. And any pretty girl talking to a male colleague more than twice is seen as the most promiscuous vixen that ever stepped on earth. Good work turned out by female reporters is routinely attributed to their good looks—and to their alleged nymphomaniacal eagerness to hop into bed with any source who dangles a scoop.

"She has done a good story, sure!"

This is said with profound reluctance.

"But you know how she got it and who gave it to her?"

This is said in something like a stage whisper.

I always considered it a personal affront when great stories done by women who worked with me were sneered at in this fashion, because I knew the diligence and devotion that made such good work possible. In fact, as someone who headed news bureaus in three national dailies in the past 35 years, I can state categorically that my women colleagues not only produced work of better quality than men but also were more forthcoming in accepting assignments that looked risky.

This is not to suggest that male reporters are all lazybones or fainthearted hacks who duck under a bed when danger comes calling. This is only to point out that while women contribute their share—maybe more than their share—to journalism, the male-dominated industry only rewards them with groping, pawing, sexual innuendo and, in some cases, downright molestation in five-star hotel rooms.

And for some, the #MeToo campaign has also come in handy to satisfy their own biases. If some are turning it into a campaign against The Times of India, others are using it as a political weapon to take potshots at Narendra Modi. Also deplorable is the attempt by some others to paint #MeToo’s alleged villains with a brush of ideology.

And there is no Left or Right wing in sexual or sexist delinquency.

What next?

The least that the media can do now is to bring to book quickly and decisively those accused of sexual assault if found guilty. Editors must remember their favourite cliché — “justice delayed is justice denied” — while going through due processes. And it’s also time to ensure at least a semblance of fair play and due diligence in the appointments of journalists to key positions.

As for political polarisation, journalists have a right to hate or love Modi, but let’s go back to basics. I am reminded of what an editor told me when I was a young reporter: “Interpretation is different from comment. Be sure which one it is when you are writing. Expose anybody without fear, however powerful they may be. But don’t go after anybody as if it’s your personal or political agenda. Always hear the other side.” There are other basics. Find them in any good journalism textbook.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

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Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.


Updated Date: Oct 12, 2018 14:55 PM

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