In January 2011 NDTV carried a recruitment ad in newspapers - Train with the best. The line below the picture reads: "Train with those who have made the news for 22 years. Enroll as an apprentice with the NDTV Broadcast Training Programme."
Train with the best! The more I think of that line it makes me laugh and wonder if there are any journalistic principles left at NDTV at all. What does one say of a TV channel one of whose prominent journalists goes around writing articles in some newspaper grieving over her experience at the hands of a UPA politician who seems to have insulted her modesty with sexual comments. I am not one to dictate what NDTV should report but ideally a report on the issue should have read like this from NDTV itself:
“NDTV is shocked to report the behaviour of UPA’s Mr. Perv who had the audacity to insult the modesty of one its female journalists with sexual comments. We consider this behaviour outrageous and have filed a complaint with the NCW and the Ministry of I&B and have demanded strong action. We choose not to disclose the name of the journalist to protect her privacy and self-respect but will not rest till this politician is arrested and prosecuted. We would like viewers to know that this politician has a history of such behaviour and it’s time to put such people out of business”. But sorry, that was never heard on that channel.
Instead, Sunetra Choudhury, the NDTV journalist involved in the incident had to write an article in DNA (July 10) newspaper about her plight called “Pervy Politician needs to get his act together”. One can sympathise with her plight but once again it is the victim whose identity is in the open while the offender remains shrouded in secrecy and open to guess work. Not that it requires too much of smart guess work either. Prior to the DNA article she had already tweeted about her long wait to meet this politician and how the babus around were busy watching Rakhee Sawant on TV. The article received some tweets and comments in response and Choudhury went on leave. But here’s an interesting excerpt from her article:
“Now, unlike many other journalists, I am not on back-slapping terms with any politician, least of all this one. I had heard that this one liked the ladies, but had never experienced his glad eye. I don’t know whether I was too focussed on getting my interview, or whether I was so relieved that I wouldn’t have to hear my editor banging on about not getting it, that I actually laughed at this comment, noticing in the midst of this giggle, that my colleague’s eyebrows had touched his receding hairline. I got my interview and was also regaled by the pervy politician’s other stories — how he would go to an unsavoury politician’s party because he got lots of women to show their legs and cleavage, how some woman danced the kamasutra dance for him and other lascivious tales…”
I have to assume that Barkha Dutt, as group editor of NDTV, would be Sunetra’s boss. Sort of explains the relief she talks about. Next, read the line closely where she says “unlike many other journalists, I am not on back-slapping terms with any politician”. There’s your probable reason why neither NDTV nor any other prominent journalist has stood up for her or backed her to have the culprit named and punished. I have good reason to believe that the line also talks about journalistic culture at NDTV since Sunetra would clearly know more about the equations of her own peers at NDTV with politicians rather than other journalists at other channels. I am sure if Sunetra reads this line of hers again she will realise she has unwittingly exposed most media celebrities and the doctored news they peddle or how they crawl up to their political bosses. Her article seems to contain a few hints that could identify the offender.
She further writes about another colleague of hers: “Isn’t that why my colleague was stalked with text messages from a cabinet minister and still felt hesitant to complain?” And yes, in case you forgot NDTV’s tagline, it is “Experience Truth, first”
In contrast Sunetra’s boss, Barkha, couldn’t stomach even strong and fair criticism by a blogger. (“Shoddy Journalism” by Chaitanya Kunte on Barkha Dutt’s 26/11 coverage). NDTV initiated legal action against the blogger to pull that article and render an apology. Again, when Radiagate broke with Barkha Dutt accused of involvement in power-broking she and NDTV threatened “appropriate action” against Manu Joseph’s Open magazine. Ever since it has been downhill for NDTV and I am surprised this channel even survives. I believe any other journalist in Barkha’s place would have been fired. Train with the best! Indeed!
People were just about starting to get past the incident when Sunetra Choudhury put out another article after two weeks in DNA (July 24). This time it is some sort of justification for “Why I did not name ‘Mr Pervy Politician”. But though she’s a victim the points in her second article make sorry reading. She may have had many responses from people but her justification seems somewhat unjustified. Here are some points she makes:
“I realised from the overwhelming response how it wasn’t about me but about lakhs of people who form half of our workforce…” For a start, I don’t think many of those lakhs of people are really in as powerful a position as a journalist from a TV channel is. I doubt DNA or any other newspaper would give those people an inch to write about their experience. I am a bit surprised Sunetra cannot see this difference. There is a reason those lakhs of people are expecting a different response from her.
“I didn’t know how to tell all of them that this ‘Pervy Politician’ was just one of the many I had encountered, and so I felt it was a bit unfair that I should out just him. I didn’t know how to tell them that some of the others had been much worse, and I was lucky that I didn’t feel too scarred by any of them, but I knew many women who probably were, and didn’t have the space to express themselves..” That doesn’t seem to be sound logic. That it would be unfair to previous offenders she had encountered if she had outed this man. Go ahead, out them all. Furthermore, it hardly does anything for the many other women who she implies were ‘scarred’ by such experiences. And the worst part is, it also clearly indicates that this wasn’t her first experience and she has suffered this silently all this while. Here’s the dangerous part – by logic and implication it also indicates that she may take future incidents of this nature in her stride too. Why is NDTV silent on all of this? Is this some private matter of their journalist and not something she encountered in her line of duty?
Sunetra then talks about a sexual harassment panel for such experiences. “My organisation does have one of those, as a matter of fact, and it is a fairly active panel as well…..I just want to point out that I didn’t even take this ‘Pervy Politician’ issue to my editors and they would have read about it like everybody else did. I wasn’t hiding anything, it’s just that, at the time, I was too busy doing my work to report anything else”. These are really stunning revelations. NDTV has a sexual harassment panel but she couldn’t or didn’t take it up with them? And that her editors would have heard of the incident just like everybody else from her DNA article? What is amazing is that for an incident that rankles so much she even says she was too busy doing her work to report anything else. Well, if a few days later if it was worth taking up and writing in DNA why not take it up with the NDTV panel as well?
Alright, she says she didn’t take it up with her editors. Well, after her first article on July 10 did her editors call her and ask her about the incident? Did they say they are going to take some action? One can safely presume there might have been a discussion on it between NDTV and Sunetra. My expectations of NDTV are very low, but surely, even at NDTV editors can’t be that dumb to notice a sensational article by one of their journalists and simply not even talk about it. Was that the case? She says even politicians called her and offered help. Nobody from NDTV or the NDTV sexual harassment panel called up? Surely, if not the name of the offender, Sunetra must reveal how her organisation responded. Else this saga of working in one media outlet and complaining in another can be seen from many different angles.
Sunetra doesn’t want to name the offender but at the end of the article she leaves you with what looks like another hint: “I should mention that I’m probably going to be bumping into the perv soon. It’s inevitable with me being a political journalist, isn’t it? There’s a planned public event where he’s slotted to appear and I admit, that there’s a part of me that’s very scared about meeting him again. But then I remind myself, I have done nothing wrong and if anything, it’s the perv who should be hiding, not me”. Well, if that perv is going about public events like a routine it doesn’t seem like he’s hiding or even about to hide. Sunetra is currently on holiday since her first article in DNA. If and when she returns let’s see what happens to this whole episode. If she is scared of meeting this politician again as she has stated it is clearly time NDTV realised what they are putting their journalist through.
And what can I say about NDTV? Train with the best? Experience truth, first? Perversion of truth? In her latest article on Hindustan Times website Barkha Dutt quotes The Gita line “dishonour is worse than death”! NDTV should know all about dishonour, I suppose.