New Delhi: The #MeToo movement that has caused a storm in the film industry and singed newsrooms reached the Modi government with former editor and Union minister M.J. Akbar being named for sexual harassment by two journalists in the social media.
A day after journalist Priya Ramani levelled allegations against Akbar, who is a junior External Affairs Minister, another of his former colleague Prerna Singh Bindra came up with charges of sexual harassment.
The Telegraph, of which Akbar was the founding editor, had carried a story on Tuesday based on tweets by Ramani and another account by an unnamed writer in Firstpost, a news portal.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday did not answer media queries about allegations concerning Akbar. As reporters persisted with their questions and asked if there will be a probe, she walked past them without giving an answer.
Expressing concern over the instances of alleged sexual harassment, the Editors Guild of India has called upon the news media organisations to conduct unbiased probes into all such cases.
The Guild said it unequivocally condemns all “predatory conduct” by such men.
“It is worse when the perpetrators also happen to be enjoying senior or supervisory positions in the profession,” it said in a statement adding that it was commitmted towards ensuring legal rights of either the victims or the accused are not violated.
“A fair, just and safe working environment is essential if press freedom is to flourish,” it said expressing solidarity with female journalists.
Ramani had on Monday tweeted about a piece she had written for The Vogue magazine in 2017.
“I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything,” she had said and even called Akbar “a predator.”
On Tuesday she tweeted “a small story from someone who worked” with him. “MJ Akbar never missed an opportunity,” Ramani said.
The story by an unnamed woman journalist did not name Akbar but referred to him as a boss of a new newspaper published simultaneously from Bombay, Delhi and London (The Asian Age).
The journalist said she was made to wait in a hotel lobby for hours and when he came from his meetings at 9.30 pm, she was asked if she wanted to stay over. It also says that when she refused, he “graciously told me to take the office car and get dropped off home in distant suburbs.”
“But yes, I was definitely never a favourite post that incident,” it added.
Bindra had on Sunday made allegations against Akbar but did not name him. “He was this brilliant, flamboyant editor who dabbled in politics, who called me-my 1st job-to his hotel room to ‘discuss work’, after i put the edition to bed-read midnight, and made life at work hell when I refused, couldn’t speak up due to various compulsions, but yes #MeTooIndia,” she had said.
However, on Tuesday she named him and made a series of tweets.
“It was MJ Akbar I do not say this lightly.. I know the consequences of false accusations and it has been now 17 yrs and I have no concrete proof. But I was young, just made features editor, super impressed with our brilliant editor, sensitive writer (read Riot after Riot),
“But the great have feet of clay. I have narrated the story in my earlier tweets. I enjoyed our conversations-he was witty, intelligent, but this did not mean i was available. After I refused to go to the hotel at night- post putting paper to bed- things got nasty.
“He made lewd comments, once when we had a meeting with the entire features team. One of the girls told me later he had asked them to meet him in the hotel too. I was alone in the city, vulnerable, fighting battles on personal fronts. I kept quiet,” she said.
“Once, I recall going for a story-in Mumbai Mantralaya, and the officer tried to grab me: And I thought whom do I complain to: my editor is made of same stuff. And I walked away from AA. dug up dirt-on corruption-on the officer, but the next newspaper refused to publish it,” she added.
The journalist said she did keep in touch with Akbar of and on through the years but “stripped of all respect.”
BJP leaders spoke in different voices on the #MeToo campaign with women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi supporting it.
Answering a question about allegations against a politician in the campaign, she said there should be an investigation.
“Those who are in positions of power always use it, whether it is film, media or industry. Whenever women make such allegations, we should take them very seriously,” she said.
However, BJP MP Udit Raj questioned why women were coming out with their stories ten years after the alleged incidents and dubbed it as the “beginning of wrong practice”.
“It must also be considered that it can ruin the public image of accused person,” the Bharatiya Janata Party (MP) from northwest Delhi said in a tweet.
Later answering a query about Akbar, he repeated his remarks about the damage to a person’s reputation if allegations turn out to be false.