Tanu Sharma harassment protest: Big issue draws low turnout

The extremely serious allegations of sexual and mental harassment made by TV journalist Tanu Sharma against her India TV employers have opened up a can of worms about the bizarre demands being made of women anchors in media houses and the blatantly exploitative nature of employment contracts.

Today, ten days after Sharma’s attempted suicide outside the India TV office in Noida, a small group of journalists, social activists and members of students and trade unions held a protest in Noida’s Film City to draw attention to Sharma’s case and demand justice for her. Noida’s Film City is where India’s top broadcast media houses are headquartered.

Commenting on the poor turnout at the protest, a senior broadcast journalist, said “This a reflection of how terrified journalists are of their managements.”

A logo of India tv

A logo of India TV

In stark contrast to the Tehelka case, in which magazine editor Tarun Tejpal was accused by one of his employees of sexually assaulting her, the Tanu Sharma-India TV case has so far largely been blacked out by the mainstream media.

“Tanu Sharma has said that she was asked to ‘socialise’ with politicians as part of her professional duties. She was hired to be an anchor. What is intention behind making such demands on her? Such things simply cannot be tolerated.

India TV ran a sensational campaign against Tejpal but they don’t want to conduct an investigation in their own backyard. Our demand today is that those accused should be treated like ordinary criminals and not as VIPs. There should not double standards on how this case is treated,” said Surendra Grover, editor of an online portal Media Durbar, who was present at the protest.

Tanu Sharma’s three-year work contract with India TV, parts of which are available online, have raised alarm bells for its blatantly unjust and exploitative terms. The contract reads: “The Presenter does not have any right to terminate this agreement. In the event of the Presenter failing to discharge the duties and responsibilities under this agreement on account of some exceptional circumstances, such as illness or medical inability, subject to the company accepting the resignation of the Presenter, the Presenter shall be liable to pay to the company an amount equivalent to six months professional fee.”

But despite having virtually denied her the right to quit the company, her employment was terminated based on a text message that she sent to her colleague which was then forwarded to the HR department. In a suicide note that she posted on Facebook, Tanu Sharma describes her ordeal at TV “nothing less than a nightmare.”

Speaking about the decision to hold a protest, Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association said, “The silence of the media on this issue has been deafening. I’m not saying that they should intrude on Tanu Sharma’s privacy or pass judgement on what has happened but at least examine that your news rooms are places of immense stress, there is power play, quite possibly sexism and sexual exploitation. Surely it merits serious sober introspection. Since mainstream media is not doing anything, concerned journalists have come together to start a conversation.”

Among issues raised at the protest meeting were lack of transparency and accountability that has come to define India’s media industry and its dark record of abuses and criminal violations of rights of its employees.

“Media houses don’t want to accept labour laws and laws that protect women. Women are in a minority in the media industry and it is vital that their rights are protected, that they feel secure in their workplace. Majority of the media houses have refused to implement the Supreme Court mandated Vishaka guidelines. Through this protest we want to send a message to women journalists that the journalist community is with them and that we will not accept such crimes. We want to tell the India TV management that Tanu Sharma is not alone and to tell other media houses that we will not remain silent on issues of sexual harassment,” said senior journalist Anil Chamadia, who participated in the protest meeting.

The prevalence of exploitative working conditions and use of intimidatory tactics, both of which Tanu Sharma’s case has exposed, were brought up by journalists at the meeting.

“There is a need to create more awareness among journalists that even if they are contract or freelance employees, the Working Journalist Act applies to them. The question is how can it be enforced, who will enforce it and what mechanisms need to be put in place. We should form a committee comprising members who have media experience and an understanding of labour laws to come up with a framework on how to dialogue with the government on creating a regulatory framework to protect the rights of workers,” said senior broadcast journalist Prashant Tandon.

On the need for journalist to organise themselves, Tandon said, “Over the last couple of decades, the role of industry unions has come under a shadow. They are not as vocal as they used to be. The labour movement is also not as visible as it was ten years ago. I think the time has come we come together.”

The journalists have submitted a memorandum to District Magistrate of Noida with five demands.

“No action has been taken even ten days after the FIR was lodged. The accused are walking free…And this is happening in a media universe that claims to champion the rights of citizens. There are many more women who are going through what Tanu Sharma went through. To prevent a repeat of such an incident, we appeal to the DM that he ensure: One, Ritu Dhawan, who has been named by Tanu Sharma in her suicide note, also be included in the FIR. Two, the accused be arrested immediately. Three, the criminal charges against Tanu Sharma be dropped. Four, guarantee that all media houses implement the Vishaka guidelines. Five, that Tanu Sharma be financially compensated and an independent committee be set up to investigate crimes in the media,” said Tanu Sharma’s former colleague, Mahendra Mishra.

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Updated Date: Jul 02, 2014 21:03 PM

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