On November 7 and 8 of 2013, a young reporter of Tehelka faced sexual harassment allegedly from its then-editor Tarun Tejpal. What followed then was a series of analysis from his fellow journalists, which went from right wing conspiracy to shaming the victim.
Fast forward to 2015, noted Indian columnist Hasan Suroor was arrested on November 9 in United Kingdom, as he was about to meet a minor girl, under the pretext of meeting over a coffee but alleged now of walking into a possible sexual encounter with ‘her’. Her had been kept under quotes, because it was a man from a paedophile watchdog, who trapped Hasan as he walked willingly to it. As usual, there was not a single condemnation from the usual suspects, who would condemn India, Hindus, BJP and Modi, at the drop of a hat.
Let us rewind back to 2013 now. Tejpal had sent an internal e-mail requesting a break to ponder over his mistake, to do self-laceration. Tehelka’s second-in-line Shoma Choudhary tried to diffuse the situation by forwarding that e-mail to Tehelka staff, which got leaked to social media. Once it got leaked, it took an effort for media clan to push the news to mainstream. Given the observation that media had jumped the gun and publish any statements or events that malign BJP even without a tiny verification, it took a lot of guts to publish news that was tarnishing their cabal.
Our concern here does not end with news of Tejpal affair coming out in the mainstream media, but the absence of outrage in the form of tweets or opinion columns, from the thekedars of journalism. Siddharth Varadarajan, Tunku Varadarajan and Shivam Vij came out with honest criticism of the actions of Tejpal, without dropping any doubts on the character of the victim. Apart from strong opinion columns on Tejpal issue, the trio also took into Twitter. Shivam Vij of Scroll, was particularly vocal on this case in Twitter. (Take a look at Tunku, Siddharth and Shivam’s tweets on Tejpal). Malini Parthasarathy of The Hindu took time to condemn the action of Tejpal and tweeted about her support to the victim of Tejpal.
Barkha Dutt of NDTV made shows on Tejpal issue, but there was no direct tweet condemning the act from her, who otherwise would tweet like an angry young rebel. Rajdeep Sardesai, who would otherwise outrage poetically with ‘gnight’, just mentions the coverage of Tejpal case in his show via his tweets. No direct outrage or outright condemnation via tweets. Sagarika Ghose follows the cue of her husband, just dropping few tweets of Tejpal case being covered in her show. Apart from a tweet that questions Tejpal about political vendetta, Sagarika was not in her form that day. Rana Ayyub, who wrote for Tehelka, highlighted the abuses directed at her, but never took time to condemn Tejpal. While abuse of anyone is bad and condemnable, that doesn’t prevent Rana from uttering her usual harsh condemnation at Tejpal. But sadly, she just made a general remark about the case after she resigned from Tehelka. (Kindly note that we have considered only Twitter here and not other social media outlets, because the above mentioned journalists had used Twitter to regularly condemn the activities of people associated with Hindu groups).
Few journalists even tried to malign the victim and tried to prove that Tejpal is innocent. Scroll had covered how two journalists and a filmmaker were pushing themselves above their limit to rescue Tejpal. Manu Joseph wrote a detailed “investigative” piece about the Goa incident, by analysing CCTV images which aren’t allowed outside prosecutor and defendant circles.
Except a handful of prominent journalists, almost the rest of the team was busy in burying their head in the sand, trying to make it appear like the crime of totally unrelated person (from their very own industry). But, the stunning silence of the media in the recent Hasan Suroor case is appalling. Not only were there indirect methods to suppress the news of his crime, there were attempts to even distance him from the journalist circle by Malini P of The Hindu. Rana Ayyub tries to bring out her humorous side while she should had been expected to condemn the act of Hasan.
Take a look at below collage of tweets with keyword Hasan Suroor from other famous journalists in Twitter:
That is right! None of them have tried to outrage on the Hasan Suroor issue. Shivam Vij of Scroll, who previously criticised Tejpal for his sexual crime, tried to tone down the gravity of Hasan’s issue. Similar to how Manu Joseph wrote for Tejpal in the Outlook, a female journalist wrote in Outlook that Hasan Suroor should not be treated as he was by the Unknown TV crew. Arunabh Saikia wrote in News Laundry about how the UnknownTV crew asked for money to release details about their encounter with Hasan. While the title of that article has words like ‘media ethics’, there is no questioning of the ethics of Indian media by the author. Though he makes a note of Indian media trying to brush the case under the carpet, the author could have asked some serious questions over such actions of Indian media, which he had missed to.
The influence of a journalist is much bigger than the influence of a politician. The motormouths of BJP, whom the journalist treat as the mouth of the party, like Sakshi Maharaj, have just one vote in any of the bills passed in parliament. The maximum the likes of Sakshi can do is give ‘hate’ speeches and we had not faced any major or minor communal disturbance on the ground because of his speech. But, Tarun Tejpal was someone who influenced a whole generation. Tejpal was the face of rebel, who had sown the seeds of aspiration for journalism in many young minds then. Tejpal ran a magazine which had fed young Indians with new thoughts and ideas. In short, a journalist like Tejpal had more influence among young Indians than a politician like Sakshi Maharaj.
So, if a Sakshi Maharaj can be condemned anytime for opening his mouth, why can’t the same journalists make up their mind to condemn Tejpal and Hasan Suroor? Sakshi Maharaj may make bad suggestions, but it needs the approval of parliament to bring it into action. But, Hasan Suroor can just publish his opinions and millions of readers are implanted with his ideas. So, a journalist must be more responsible than a politician. Because, people do not take a politician seriously as much as they consider a journalist’s words. Common people trust journalists more than politicians and hence, a journalist doing a crime must have more condemnation than a politician. But, have we heard any condemnation from these torchbearers of justice on Radia tapes? Oil Ministry leaks? No!
This arouses a doubt in our mind that, whether by remaining silent, do our country’s journalists send a signal that sexual crimes are fine as long as the perpetrators belong to their industry? Do they try to behave like a herd, trying to defend even wrongdoers, if they happen to be from their industry? If so, how much different are the journalists from the politicians whom they criticise all round the year?