Women's body claims journalist sexually harassed at Sun TV

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 28, 2013 11:53 hrs

Chennai: A Women's body, Network of Women in Media (NWIM), on Thursday released a statement claiming sexual harassment of a woman journalist at Sun TV. 

NWIM narrates the incident as follows: S. Akila joined Sun TV, Chennai in December 2011 as a news anchor/news producer. On joining, V. Raja, the Chief Editor and Vetrivendhan, the Reporters' co-ordinator have indicated that the confirmation of her job and subsequent pay rise depended on the 'compromises' she was willing to make.

As a result of her refusal to concede to their demands of sexual favours, her confirmation remained pending even after completing the six-month probationary period. 

Akila's Diwali bonus was withheld in November 2012 and when she raised the issue with Raja, he asked her to get in touch with him over the phone after reaching home. Upon phoning him, he told her that she had been confirmed and that she should 'take care of him' for the favour. Akila terminated the call, but managed to record the conversation.

Raja realised that she was not coming around and kept harassing her in different ways, including verbally abusing her in front of her colleagues. On January 21st, he summoned her to his cabin and threatened her with dire consequences if she went public with a complaint of harassment.

She was put on morning shifts for several weeks in her job, which required her to leave her residence at 3.30 am in order to be at office at 5 am since the office did not arrange for morning pick-up. On being confronted on February 26th, Raja informed her that she was continuously on the grueling morning shift because she was not 'adjusting' to him. 

Akila approached the police on March 19th and filed a complaint of sexual harassment. On the same day, Raja was arrested under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act. Two days later, Mr Vetrivendhan was also arrested on the same charges. 

Soon after Mr. Raja's arrest, Ms Akila received an anonymous phone call by someone threatening to kill her. In a move to isolate her at the workplace, her friend Mr Kannan who was aware of the harassment and was supportive of her, was suspended on grounds of a complaint filed by colleagues who refused to work with him or Ms Akila. 

On March 25th, Akila she was to anchor the 12.00 noon news bulletin, but she was not allowed to go on air. On March 26th, Raja who was by then out on bail, joined work, and Akila was handed a suspension order the next day. 

NWIM states that there is no redressal mechanism at Sun TV for complaints of sexual harassment. This is in contempt of the Guidelines issued in 1997 by the Honourable Supreme Court in the Vishakha case, which places an obligation on every establishment in the country to ensure the rights of women workers by creating a conducive workplace free from sexual harassment.

These principles of gender equity and labour rights are also enshrined in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012 which was passed by both houses of Parliament and is only awaiting the President's assent. 

In light of the incident, NWIM has made a list of demands in favour of Akila. These include her immediate reinstatement, payment of damages to her for mental trauma, immediate suspension of V. Raja pending an independent inquiry as well as the police investigation into the case, independent inquiry into the case by a team that includes independent, third-party lawyers, journalists and women's rights activists, setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee as per the Vishaka Guidelines and establishment of Complaints Committees in all media houses as per the Vishakha Guidelines and the new law once it comes into force.

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