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Sexual harassment: Women journos condemn Sun TV’s actions

Sun TV sexual harassment

Women journalists have issued a statement in support of S Akila, Sun TV news anchor who was sacked for filing a sexual harassment charge against her superior V. Raja

By Team FI

The Network of Women in Media (NWMI), India, an independent forum of media professionals have condemned the sacking of a Sun TV journalist, S Akila who was fired by the Chennai based TV channel after she filed a police complaint of sexual harassment against her Editor V. Raja.

As per the press release issued by the NWMI, S Akila had joined Sun TV Chennai in December 2011 as a news anchor/news producer. Allegedly V. Raja, the Chief Editor and Vetrivendhan, the Reporters’ Coordinator indicated that the confirmation of her job and subsequent pay rise depended on the ‘compromises’ she was willing to make. This was, apparently, not the first time they had made such demands, but due to the hostile and intimidating atmosphere at the office, few women had been able to resist. As a result of her refusal to concede to their demands of sexual favours in return for job security and pay hikes, her confirmation remained pending even after completing the six-month probationary period.

Meanwhile, in November 2012, Akila’s Diwali bonus was withheld. 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.

Her refusal was retaliated with harassment including verbal abuse 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. Soon thereafter, in contravention of the norm of assigning shifts, he put her on morning shifts for several weeks, 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.

V Raja

V Raja

When Akila confronted Raja on February 26th and questioned this unusual assigning of a continuous morning shift, she was informed this action was taken because she was not “adjusting” to him. This situation lasted for few weeks, till it became unbearable, upon which Akila filed a complaint of sexual harassment on March 19th. Raja was arrested under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act. Two days later, Vetrivendhan was also arrested on the same charges.

The situation however did not improve for Akila. She received an anonymous phone call threatening to kill her. Her friend and colleague Kannan who was aware of the harassment and supportive of her, was suspended on grounds of a complaint filed by colleagues who refused to work with him or Akila.

When Akila reported to the office on March 25th, she was not assigned any work. As per schedule, she was to anchor the 12.00 noon news bulletin, but she was not allowed to go on air.

In a complete travesty of justice, on March 26th, Raja who was by then out on bail, joined work, and the next day, Akila was handed a suspension order. Thus, a woman who resisted sexual harassment and stood up to demands for sexual favours has been further victimised.

The press release noted that that there is no redressal mechanism at Sun TV for complaints of sexual harassment. This, the release stated, is in contempt of the Guidelines issued in 1997 by the 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 approval.

NWMI members have also demanded immediate reinstatement of S. Akila, suspension of V. Raja and an independent inquiry into the case.

Meanwhile, J Ravindran, Counsel for Sun TV Network, in an email sent to NWMI, refuted all the allegations and stated that V Raja is still under suspension. The TV Channel legal representative also stated that Akila was “suspended based on complaints from more than 15 women employees and women journalists.” He further stated that an independent enquiry into both the employees will be conducted by a committee headed by a retired judicial officer.