Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sexual Harassment in the media.

I debated long and hard before posting this, and a part of me still thinks I should not have, but because at the end of the day, media incestuousness would mean that almost nobody will pick up the story, and as I mentioned, blogs do have a purpose of informing people about things that they will never get to hear about. This is a serious problem in the Indian media.
I heard a very disturbing story a short while ago about an alledged case of sexual harassment in a media organisation. I've always believed that organisations shouldn't be too uptight - and as the case is under investigation, I'll refrain from further details.
People who I know and respect at a level have decided to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that harassment doesn't occur in their organisations - across media groups in India. Large media groups - and there are several - almost always have no Sexual Harassment Cells, whereas even the smallest Investment Banking firm with what, 15-20 employees would have one. Ironic isn't it, because these same media houses then do stories about on harassment. And the worst part is that they are legally required to have such a cell.
So, what is the story here? The incestuous nature of the media here has buried sexual harassment stories before. I mean two phone calls and a round of scotch at a five-star can bury most media rivalries for the time, and who will give a damn if one junior reporter quits. There are some, and this number is dreadfully small, editors who have a 'zero tolerance' policy, but other than the occasional well-publicised event (and that also because the harassed person would have ranked higher in the editorial schemes of things than the harasser) and some interesting initiatives by newer media companies - old media seems to ignore this problem.
Shocking? Definately. So what do we do about it? Well, the media company in question will not change its policies (given that a senior member of their management is accused of far worse, but people choose to ignore that) until something happens. A precedent, and that usually means legal recourse - though chances are that media companies will try and argue in the courts that they should be exempt from the need to have sexual harassment cells.
So, if you work in the media - I have a couple of questions - Does your organisation have a sexual harassment policy? And being the media sexual harassment works both ways, actually all three ways when you come to think of it.
This blog isn't a 'Name and Shame' blog, I'm just mortified that such a thing can happen and that people choose to ignore it. Its a pity, really. And do me a favour, please spread this post around, maybe then something might just happen, after all people do read blogs.
Technorati Tags :
EDIT : Point being raised after a chat with someone else who has had to deal with such an incident - Never forget the basis of both sides of the story. Secondly, if the complainant has a history of being whiney (and I know, first-hand, how easy it is to make up stories, rather spice them up a bit to make a certain individual seem like a total sleazeball, it is very easy), it doesn't help matters.
What is construed as 'sexual harassment'? The odd-SMS? In fact I agree with some of the points raised by the person here, there is no hard and fast rule to apply in this case - because one aspect being raised is is this dismissal baiting? In fact, the head of HR at a very large organisation (25,000 plus with a large number of women in senior management and famous for it) once told me that their sexual harassment cell had discovered that a quarter of such cases were actually classified as dismissal baiting - 'Zero Tolerance' after a full and through investigation is the only way forward. That said, there is always the 'Out of Context' situation - what do you do here - a random 'You Bitch' thrown out of context can get you fired. Now, that said, everybody has to deal with such a case seriously and nobody wants to be seen as lenient on such matters - and as one person (a lady) told that while the person involved might have a cavaliar attitude on some matters - if push comes to shove things will move. But which way is the question?
That however, doesn't remove the basic premise of this post - Do media organisations need full-fledged sexual harassment cells? Yes, they do. And should each case and complaint be investigated? Yes, they should be. And I also believe that the punishment for 'Casual/False' complaints should be as strict as the punishment for an actual case.
None of the parties involved read this blog, or to be more precise not that I know of.
EDIT : Evidently people 'do read' stuff on the internet and I've been advised to change the tenor of this post. I've done that and removed bits and pieces from here and there (which fair enough are allegations - because then I'll also be guilty like much of the Indian media is of convicting without evidence, and that is something I don't want to do) - but my central contention remains the same, and you can't argue with that!


Anonymous said...

when men speak out against sexual harassment, they need to be saluted.

Soumyadip said...

Need to link to this. All this doesn't seem to be new, and that precisely is the problem. The media is fast becoming synonymous with sleaze, as politics is to corruption. And we don't give a damn. Because perhaps we too feel that a few steps up the ladder we can also take a few such liberties. The Bollywood casting couch has a more active cousin up north.

Anonymous said...

Been lurking for long, but am provoked to comment this time. Your post raises a number of questions. All I can do is reiterate these because, media being the way it is, there are no easy answers.
First. No, the media organisation I work is does not have a sexual harassment cell, at least one that I know (and if there is and I don’t know about, the entire purpose is defeated ain’t it?).
Yes, media does, perhaps more than any other organisation, need sexual harassment cells. Not just because the hours and the proximity in which people work lead them to ‘waver’, but because working in the media usually gives people a sense of power. And power can make people do funny things.
But sexual harassment is also misused, again, perhaps more in media than any other place. Often by women who are clear about what they want and willing to get it anyway—by sleeping with someone for it, or accusing someone of wanting to do that with them. Whatever it takes.
Is filing a case or a complaint an answer? You know it isn’t. If the boss’s hand is on your head, you can get away with murder, never mind a little (or more than that) flirtation. The one who complaints is more likely to regret it forever. There are those who do.
You know all this, anyone working in media does. But that’s all the more reason to write about it.
Have just repeated everything you said. But only because it bears repetition. Shall link.

K said...

Anon 1 : I don't know what you are to make of a fairly senior lady journalist who had a bad habit of dropping her pallu every time a certain young guy walked by? It happened too often to be seen as conincidence. But that said, women comprise 99.999% of cases, especially in India.
Anon 2 : Thanks, if I could only get the other 100-odd regular lurkers to this blog to comment as well. Its true that there are more than enough women who do 'Whatever It Takes' (with due apologies to Rajdeep TV, but then again I quote you) to make it in the profession and sadly, I've had the misfortune of knowing some such individuals. That said, when is a complaint a complaint, and what is a complaint? I mean, some of the stuff I've done after office parties would well... y'know what I mean.
The only thing that I'm grateful for is that many bosses are more professional on these matters than their predecessors. There are old school journalists I know (Delhi Press Club oldie types) whose worldview is embarassingly sexist. Repeating what they talk about is very bad copy!

Anonymous said...

Ha! I see you picked that whatever it takes. I thought it just made perfect sense :)
But on a serious note. While I know what you mean about the Delhi Press Club types, the reverse is also true. Bosses today come younger and younger and a lot of them have really cavalier attitudes. I just guess there are men of all types in all times and you just have to keep protesting.
ps. While my office does not have a sexual harassment cell it does have a rather clear, happy air: in the sense that affairs go on openly and things are less murky. I think there are fewer undercurrents that my previous place of work. That is a good sign.


secret service said...

an anti-sexual harassment seminar in college. a bureau chief - a woman - comes to talk about sexual harassment in the media. i tell her, look, a disgruntled journo in my home town was bitching before me how senior lady journalists became so by sleeping around, how he saw X with Y doing unconstitutional things in office. Now, I asked her, what do you say when women use their bodies to move ahead in their careers? She replied: what about gay men who sleep with their bosses?

In short, there's no hope.

But sexual harassment is sexual harssment only in its context. If I ask a colleague - senior/junior - is she'd like to sleep with me. Does it amount to sexual harassment? I mean, I'm just saying I'd like to sleep with her, and ain't sex a beautiful thing? She refuses. Fine. I'm a li'l embarassed. KLPD! So what? Happens.

What happens in my professional relationship with this woman is now the issue. Do I start hating her? Do I come in the way of her work, do politics and bitching against her? Do I tell her, overtly or covertly: sleep with me or else I'll sideline you in office, not give you promotion.

I know someone whose boss did this to her - according to her version - in a medi non-journalistic company. She left the job and started freelancing, making more money than she was in a job, and rejected many job offers. She then took up one in a large company, earning double the amount she was. "Why didn't you speak up against the harassment?" I asked her. "No use making a fuss," she said, "people start blaming you and you get distracted from your work and career. They see you as a troublemaker who has problems with the world. In any case an organisation that can't ansure a harassment-free work environment is not worth me."

In her new organisation her boss started making passes: he started the let's-have-coffee-dinner-partying thing in a body language that made his intentions clear. Did he do something wrong? She certainly felt so, cos he was married and much older. But she used a certainly body language that clearly said: fuck off, I'm not interested. Fine. He stopped making passes. Does the boss' favour in the second workplace amount to sexual harassment?

Unlike street harassment, sexual harsssment at the workplace is not so much an issue as a Human Relationships (HR) problem that needs to be solved, and the most effective way to solve it, as you say, is an anti-sexual harassment policy and committee at every workplace. The policy should understand that men and women are sexual beings with sexual needs and if you make them work like dogs day and night - like modern companies tend to, even if they pay handsomely - their sexual needs are going to be reflected at the workplace. To think that love and sex and marriage can be kept out of the workplace - as some HR fanatics tend to - is as impractical as trying to keep college kids from doing their own matchmaking.

There's also a strong sense of morality here: some Indian women are too conservative even in the large metros. Sex outside marriage is evil. They have the right to have such views but how do I know this before making a pass at them?
Any other way for them is like being a slut.

As for the dismissal issue - you're right, just that dismissal may be a result of sexual harassment.

secret service said...

Oh yes, and my office has neither a sexual harassment policy nor any sex! boring, i know...

K said...

Anon2 : I believe there is nothing wrong from a boss sleeping with his/her younger colleagues - however there are ways and means of getting laid (so to speak) and harassing/forcing (in lieu of job security/promotion/whatever) someone into bed (or out of a job) is the completely wrong way. So just because X is sleeping with Y doesn't mean that X is harassing Y or forcing Y to sleep with him/her.
See, a friend of mine was the lead producer on a 'talent hunt' telly show and he was banging the chick that eventually won this show. Now, I saw this woman and trust me she was all over the guy, so do I blame him? Nope. Even though he claims he had nothing to do with judging, he does admit that whatever happened made him make this chiquita look better on TV (thanks to tremendous post-production and editing skillz). Now in one book that is harassment because he took advantage of his 'producer' situation. In another its just a horny guy making hay while the sun shines. What are the ethics involved? If you are the editor of a magazine and hot PYT is all over you, what are the ethics involved?
Do I condone office relationships? Obviously, though I wouldn't reccomend them from a personal sanity pov.
Anyway, have to run back to my DVD player now, because thats the only thing in my life right now!

GBO said...

Well, are'nt you glad you didn't take up that job offer with "that" motoring magazine, then? They have to be the ultimate in gender bias issues, as far as the media is concerned.

Sexual harassment of women at the office? Zero tolerance, period, paragraph, fullstop.


thalassa_mikra said...

I think it's more than just individual cases, because at least conventionally, media offices have been innuendo-filled, very woman-unfriendly spaces. I only know about HT (I never worked there though), and the women journalists were objectified and trash-talked by everyone, from senior editors to junior subs.

I mean sure, everyone gossips about colleagues, but the viciousness that was reserved for younger female journalists was incredible. Almost as if the only reason they were there was because they were female and at times, pretty.

Perhaps HT is an outlier, because till a few years ago, it used to be stuck in the Lala-ji ka chhapakhana mentality. But I don't know if things are not similar to an extent elsewhere.

K said...

TM : Every place was godawful in these matters, however my question is have they improved? Have they implemented basic policies to protect against such incidents. And the answer invariably is in the negative.

Bonatellis said...

a. what do you do when the Editor is the harrasser?

b. my wife (a journo) has faced this at more than one place she's worked with. i think in most places it is an issue of keeping your trap shut fearing reprisals.

i think the organisation needs to provide its empoyees with the comfort that one CAN speak out against such harrassment ... otherwise a majority of these will get buried.
for e.g, at my previous organisation (you know which) two of the worst male harrasers were made members of the "sexual harrassment committee" ... not even one case has come up since ...
one of the senior-most editors, i recall, had publicly announced at the editors meeting (no females included) that all future female hires will be based on only one criterion - the size of their you-know-what ...

Bonatellis said...

and K, you need to let me know who the pallu-dropping senior lady journalist is ... may be I will go back to being a journalist ;-)

btw, unfortunately, I've never got harrassed :( ... at least, seriously harrassed :)

K said...

Bona : Thats the point - even if there is a Sexual Harassment Cell of sorts it is populated by the worng types. The problem I think eventually perculates down to the lack of professionalism in the media. No professionalism, no respect for talent - and in some organisations that talent (even though I doubt that is the correct word) comprises 60% plus of your workforce.
Maybe a JNU-style Gender Sensitivisation Committee should be imposed.

thalassa_mikra said...

It's a bit like how the husband of the woman who headed the Women's Studies programme at DU was the most notorious harasser at JNU!

Bonatellis, what you described at your previous workplace is sickening but doesn't surprise me. But you know what, bad though the HT stories may have been, they are nothing compared to the horror stories I've heard about Hindustan Lever. So I don't know if corporate India is any better.

rums said...

swati, i read this some time back, found it shocking: http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9932/

Bonatellis said...

k: i didn't get the point ... u mean 60% without any talent??? then that's a huge under-estimation ;)

T_M: Corporate India is equally bad ... the flatter the organisation structures, the worse is the situation. so in creative professions (where the structures are quite flat without much respect for hierarchy) like journalism, media, advertisement, etc, are the worst hit ...

Agony Uncle said...

K wrote: Anon 1 : I don't know what you are to make of a fairly senior lady journalist who had a bad habit of dropping her pallu every time a certain young guy walked by?

I'd gift her a box of safety pins!

K said...

I'd gift her a box of safety pins!
Ha, ha. Its like giving a women friend who has a BO problem a deo spray.
This lady was great fun at office parties though. More fun than the women half her age.
Bona : Right, lets up that to 97.5%.

Bonatellis said...

that's still an under-estimation ;)

btw, someone is looking at improving that rate ... so i ...

Grazer said...

The whole thing is about the hole.
All men are golfers.
And they in their life-time want to put in in as many holes as possible.
Faster and quicker the better.
See it in a sportsman spirit.

My office I don't know. But how do we define sexual harassment?

If a girl near my table keeps on coming near me and as a friend or colleague keeps on pinching me in my body what would that amount to?

If a female colleague talks about those stuff what does that amount to?

Some years ago I was an intern in a vernacular news channel. They are a famous group started early. There I would see all kinds of things and hear too.

The bad guys who didn't get a fuck always complained that the boss was having a nice time. (I saw it that way).

A lot of people have to compete a lot of people and some people are so oriented they don't mind. You know.

Some are purely exploited. They like being exploited. This is due to the propaganda that if you sleep you clinch the deal.

Other thing is the change of mind-set. Men and Women(neo-moderns) up to some extent don't mind doing. It is only the emotions which ruin the fun. Otherwise what is wrong in doing your colleague if she doesn't have a girlfriend and you don't have one?

The famous one-liner that my friend from the language channel uses is "the giggly girls have the ultimate credit card which is valid even in the deepest jungles of Africa" (please translate in Hindi) Unke paas toe.............

We talk about so many things. Harassment should be dealt there and then. If someone continues after such moves are made it is the victim who is at fault.

Media (is assumed) to be everything. Like, it has got medicine for everything. A person working in a media house is not illiterate. He or she knows and talks, shows and writes shit about everything.

So why blame. If they are so aware of their rights sue that ass hole or that walking hole whatever.

But don't bloody say, I am a poor girl or a little boy. My career and stuff like that.

Fuck the job if you are competent and have the soul. Otherwise stay and remained fucked.

We should all in our strongest voices condemn all kinds of small and big sexual harassment in our work places.

But we should not stop from having sex with our colleagues irrespective of our age with mutual consent and without any liability (i.e anyone having a girlfriend or boyfriend).

K said...

Grazer - I'm not saying that consentual relationships between two people in an office is a wrong thing. Just look at UndieTV and TV18, and I'm all for it. But forcing someone into something on the pretext of making their 'lives a living hell' or the prospect of a promotion - hmmmm....

Grazer said...

You are right, but forcing is rape. Simple. It may be the rape of the sanctity of the soul, mind, whatever.

Promotion and pay increase are very complex things. These things are conditional and vary from individual to individual.

The point is- just fuck the job. Simple. Make a point.

But again that varies from an individual's way of looking at life which is amazingly different under all circumstances.

You choose what you want. You get what you deserve. Sometimes, both the statements are false.

K said...

You choose what you want. You get what you deserve. Sometimes, both the statements are false.

I'ld beg to differ on your last sentence. What goes around comes around - if you've done a bad turn to someone oneday sooner or later someone else is gonna come around and bite your ass. There is a sense of justice in this world.

Anonymous said...

just how popular are office romances at TV18 and ND?
i think they've been blown out of proportion.. i mean office relationships are common everywhere and why not? at this age when youre working your ass off its difficult to go out and meet someone and get into a serious relationship.. it's easier to date someone from work cause chances are that you'll meet atleast a handful of like-minded people at your workplace.

Grazer said...


Is it like the boss who screws the employee on pretext of some favour gets screwd sometime down the line in some other way?

Or it might be the coming generation of the accused which might have to face the same cycle?

Something like that na K?

Yes, and in Kaliyug justice is so fast that one has to be very very careful.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I had to edit this comment because it had a lil' gimme
There's something called National Commission for Women which often quotes that the Supreme Court has made it mandatory for all corporations to have a sexual harrassment policy. The NCW also has a lot of quasi-judicial power (I remember the Gill cases etc being with them). If the SC has made it compulsory, why is it that companies still don't have such a policy? I mean, I was just wondering whether the govt should make it mandatory (say during the filing of returns :-)

K said...

Guys a small request, many of you know who I am, just don't mention my name (or any part of thereof other than 'K')on the blog, please, please pretty please. I'm just covering my ass legally y'know. I mean I don't want high-powered pimps sending gangstaz over to my pad. Fo'shizzle homie!
Listen, guys as always if you want to get in touch with me, you can email me at presstalk [at] gmail.com, I do check that once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Sorry K, mentioning your name was my fault. Just slipped out of my mind... Really sorry. Won't happen again...
Take care

K said...

Chill out anon. Its all good.

simply_smart said...


salute you guys for speaking out against it.

I'm an undergraduate freshman at Stanford University, US....and its amazing how most of the Indian graduates here ( even though they are so educated ) think it does not happen at all or they consider such debate too sexist.
I started a wiki...and got some interesting comments :
If interested, have a look at it...and comment..
also read the "an email conversation" page...it is interesting !

Also could people please forward it to as many male friends of yours in India to comment on?
thanks :)