IN a statement issued on October 16, the journalist organisations - Press Club of India, Indian Women's Press Corps, South Asian Women in Media, Press Association - have expressed deep concern over the overwhelming complaints of sexual harassment in the media. They ssid that sexual harassment at the workplace is a worrisome reality and that media organisations and managements have been unable to put the systems in place which would have ordinarily addressed complaints of sexual harassment.
"We are also deeply disappointed at the statement issued by Mr M J Akbar, minister of state in the ministry of external affairs, wherein he has threatened legal action against all those who have alleged they were harassed by him. Mr Akbar is a senior functionary of the government and his response should reflect the responsibility that is thus bestowed on him. There can be no dispute about the need for an impartial probe into all the complaints without fear of threat or intimidation to the complainants - and this acquires particular significance if one of the accused is an influential minister in the government. In the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it would only be appropriate that the minister step down from his post till such time as the inquiry is completed. We are disappointed that Mr. Akbar did not choose to take this step instead of threatening the complainants with legal action.
"An impartial probe should be conducted into all the complaints without fear of threat or intimidation to the complainants more so as the accused party is an influential minister in the present government. We also feel that in the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it is only proper and appropriate that the minister step down from his post till as such time the probe is completed."
Sexual harassment at the workplace is a pervasive phenomenon. It has continued with impunity despite the enactment of a tough law to prevent, prohibit and redress it, The inability of women to speak out about such harassment needs serious introspection and redress. The journalist organisations hoped that employers in media organisations and the government will look into this with the seriousness it deserves and not treat the incidents as motivated complaints.