As the initial dust settles on the Tarun Tejpal‘s alleged sexual assault case, and promises to kick up some more storm still, there are a few pointers and thought-provoking commandments of journalism to revisit.
It could be still pre-emptive to just find one party on the guilty side, and that cynicism comes because there have been women who have not hesitated to cast aspersions of such serious magnitude for selfish motives, too.
But many clues point to the contrary, such as: fellow staffers hinting that they have reason to think Tejpal’s aura is not as full of holistic halo as deemed; the CCTV footage overlooking the hotel even if it did not cover the lift; the hotel venue’s shady background itself that served as premises to the alleged crime; contrasting statements and claims of threats from the accused.
What jars is the hypocrytic approach of some of the fellow media professionals in either gunning down the organisation in spotlight or adopting an sniggering stance as if to say, ‘so you thought you could show us down and take the high road of morality in the profession’. (Tehelka has achieved a reputation of being anti-establishment and that comes at a cost.)
To elaborate the point, take the video of Headlines Today’s Nalin Mehta, as an example, while interviewing Shoma Choudhary in which the managing editor gets the interviewee’s designation wrong in the first place, stammers to put his point across with repeated usage of ‘the bottom line is…’ phrase and then tries to pin down Shoma to the charge of being insensitive to the seriousness of the matter.
Just when Shoma admitted to that charge, Nalin sums the whole affair as a ‘test case of urban humanity’. Is it the first and only kind of case of sexual assault to deserve that phrase and how sensitive is it to call it a ‘test’ case? The bottom line is … that was unnecessary, and had a tone all of us struggle to get it right in the most normal circumstances. So when Shoma conceded her tone may have rightedly given the impression to some that she was trying a cover-up, there was no need to stretch it.
Also out of context are those who think this is an issue where fellow brethren in the media should take sides self-righteously and have the right to cast a stone if they fail to do so.
And also out of context are those who think Tejpal is the first leading name in journalism to have crossed a sacrosanct line. “How can those who write about crimes on women be the perpetrators themselves”, they have been crying out aloud.
At my first newspaper where I had moved on to payroll after internship, another girl intern was called by the Delhi-based managing editor to his hotel at Taj to “discuss stories”. She may have gone or not, I don’t know, but I saw senior fellow women journalists shrug it off, just like that.
It was my first look at the hypocrisy and there have been hundreds after that. Why should sexual harassment be any different than, say, exploitation of labour of all journalistic staff or being partisan to political ideology while in the garb of practising Journalism with Courage or paid news. It is something that each journalist comes across in the newsroom on a daily basis.
Also out of context is criticism that the informed management of Tehelka dragged their feet for THREE days since the incident broke out in the open when, importantly, the emails got leaked from the office and not as if the journalist decided to go public. We are tolerant for the slow pace of country’s growth over the last 65 years, but not ready to wait out and listen to two parties of an argument let them find their feet in the fight. It was not the umpteenth time that Tehelka found themselves in the answering seat and should not be expected to deliver a professional, grammar-free, tone-less response. Even Barrack Obama has slipped up with his legion of speech writers.
It is about intent. Just like many of those with the mike on the other side having gone too far in their probing, disrespecting the privacy of the alleged victim although that was not the intention.
Yes, alarm bells should ring if the Tehelka top management, and not Tejpal’s family, try to threaten or put pressure on the victim to retract or bury the case. As Arundhati Roy said, judging from the way the legal battle is unfolding, it is nothing less than “Rape No 2”.
One just wishes the alertness of fellow brethren is all-encompassing, across topics, gender, organisation banners … or else just shut up and watch.
- If Tarun Tejpal goes, brand Tehelka will also go (dnaindia.com)
- Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal’s relative asked what I “wanted”: journalist (ndtv.com)
- Tejpal investigation in critical phase (thehindu.com)