The Network of Women in Media, India, has called for news organisations and journalism colleges to set up suo motu inquiries into those accused of sexual misconduct on social media in the past few days. The group urged the media to “shine the light” on itself and break the “entrenched impunity” for harassers at the workplace.

In a statement on Monday, the group called the ongoing #MeToo allegations on social media a “watershed moment” for journalism. Since Friday, several women have made allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against various journalists, media professionals and writers on social media. Those accused include senior editors as well as reporters.

The Network of Women in Media, India, demanded that media groups and colleges set up internal committees to handle complaints of sexual harassment, circulate their policies on the subject to employees and also put them up on their websites.

The group condemned the “rampant sexism and misogyny” in Indian newsrooms and encouraged more women to “document their accounts without fear or inhibitions”. It also urged the media to follow up on such cases. “Instead of burying the story, big media/legacy organisations should follow up these stories in terms of reports with due diligence,” the statement said.

The Indian Women’s Press Corps also issued a statement on Monday, calling upon media houses to establish institutional mechanisms to redress complaints of sexual harassment, PTI reported. The group’s president, TK Rajalakshmi, said that it was disturbing and a “matter of grave concern” that “many of the complaints have gone unheard despite being brought to the notice of the appropriate authorities”.

Rajalakshmi also said media organisations have a legal obligation to set up internal complaints committees at every branch office and give information about what constitutes sexual harassment. The complaints are coming out through social media because of “either the absence or the abject failure of robust institutional grievance redress mechanisms that ought to have been readily available to the complainants in the first place”, she said.

Here is the full text of the statement by Network of Women in Media:

The Network of Women in Media in India stands in absolute solidarity with all those who have bravely spoken up about their experiences of sexual harassment within the Indian media. This is a watershed moment for all of us in journalism. We have witnessed and reported on sexual harassment in different fields and the need for strong mechanisms for redress. As the spotlight turns on us, we welcome this and encourage more women to document their accounts without fear or inhibitions. 

We are extremely disturbed to read accounts where accused in multiple cases of harassment enjoy impunity and continue to work in newsrooms unchecked. We strongly condemn the rampant sexism and misogyny in Indian newsrooms that not only allows sexual harassment to go unchecked but also promotes a culture of silence, victim blaming and moral policing. 

In the light of these events, NWMI demands:

  1. All media organisations, including journalism colleges and departments, journalist unions and press clubs, must take suo motu cognisance of the accounts of survivors, institute inquiries and take appropriate action.
  2. All media organisations and journalism colleges must have policies to prevent sexual harassment at the workplace and set up properly constituted Internal Committees (IC) in keeping with mandatory requirements of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, with every member trained to handle complaints. All ICs must be headed by a woman, half the members must be women, and the ICs must have one impartial external woman expert in law or women’s rights. IC members must be accessible and empathetic to complaints and inquire into them in a time-bound manner, and managements must take prompt action based on the recommendations of the IC. The process for initiating a complaint also needs to be made known widely.
  3. All media organisations and journalism colleges must ensure that details of the anti-sexual harassment policy and the constitution of the IC are widely circulated/publicised/displayed within their organisations and on their websites. The consequences of sexual harassment must be clearly outlined in job contracts and code of conduct manuals.
  4. Given the nature of journalism itself, ICs and employers must be sensitised to take up complaints that arise out of employment that includes being in the field and interacting with a wide range of sources. Editors must ensure that stories are not privileged over the safety of their staff.
  5. In keeping with the SH Act, 2013, freelancers and stringers, who are among the most vulnerable to sexual harassment, given their job insecurity must also be brought under the purview of anti-sexual harassment policies and the jurisdiction of Internal Committees of the media houses they contribute to.
  6. All media organisations and journalism college must provide assistance to the complainant if she so chooses to file a complaint in relation to the offence under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being in force.
  7. All media organisations and journalism colleges must have policies for gender mainstreaming and also conduct gender sensitisation workshops at least twice a year in order to promote an atmosphere of gender equality and equity.
  8. All media organisations and journalism colleges should provide professional counselling to both survivors and those accused of sexual harassment.
  9. The allegations that have surfaced so far also merit journalistic follow-up. Instead of burying the story, big media/legacy organisations should follow up these stories in terms of reports with due diligence. The media must shine the light on ourselves in order to break the entrenched impunity for perpetrators of sexual harassment at the workplace.