Journalism after #MeToo

The Indian newsroom must be made safe and equal for women — or it will lose all credibility
Over the last week, Indian journalism has finally been forced to confront what has long been its dirty secret. Going by the numerous agonising accounts of women journalists, about some male colleagues and editors abusing power and crossing the line, it appears that sexual harassment is no media outlet’s exclusive story. With such prevalence, testified credibly by many of our own, the need for introspection and corrective action is urgent.
Open secrets
While the rest of the country may have been left shocked by the disturbing allegations, from at least 10 women, aimed at veteran journalist — and now Minister of State for External Affairs — M.J. Akbar, not a single reporter, in all likelihood, batted an eyelid in newsrooms across the country. On Sunday, Mr. Akbar, who returned from a week-long trip to Africa, denied the allegations terming them “baseless” and said he would take legal action against accusers. A week after a flurry of allegations against him began emerging, the government and the Ministry of External Affairs continue to maintain deplorable silence, casting doubt on the likelihood of any process of inquiry. For the brave women outing their past and present predator-colleagues or bosses, it cannot be easy. The incidents are bound to revive disturbing memories of being assaulted by power and toxic masculinity. Among those who have come forward, former Asian Age journalist Ghazala Wahab shared a distressing account from 1997, of being allegedly harassed by Mr. Akbar when she worked for him. Just as troubling was Ms. Wahab’s recollection of how her superiors, including senior women colleagues at the paper, responded to her account, saying it was “entirely her call”. As Ms. Wahab wrote, “I was alone, confused, helpless and extremely frightened.” Nothing can be more disillusioning than this for a young journalist beginning her career with hope and idealism — and it should worry us that in 2018, across newsrooms, responses to such cases may not be very different. Which is why many women ultimately choose to leave their jobs, or seek employment elsewhere, when they confront inappropriate behaviour from their colleagues. The Editors Guild of India, in a statement, said: “The newsroom in our profession is a relatively informal, free-spirited and hallowed space. It must be protected.” Many of us, journalists, too like to think of — and perhaps even romanticise — our workplaces as being sacred, liberal spaces unbound by constraints. Sadly, what these cases have shown is the exact opposite. We need healthy camaraderie in place of needless caution. Respect, not condescension. We would like colleagues to engage with us, not be patronising. And the fact that we are still having to demand these is telling. We do realise that the media world, after all, despite its many self-righteous claims, is not insulated from the larger, patriarchal world. But as journalists, if we are fundamentally bothered by discrimination in society, as we should be, there is a lot of cleaning up to do in our own backyards.
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