Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Sunetra Chaudhury’s stunning revelation about the sexual harassment she was subjected to by a senior politician has raised issues much more disturbing than the trauma she went through and had the courage to speak about in the public domain.

Ms. Chaudhury, if one can believe what her senior colleague at NDTV, Barkha Dutt of Radia fame, tweeted some days back, is one of the brightest journalists working with the media house. Is it not, then, to begin with, odd, that her story, her cry, was not carried by her own channel, 24/7?

What happened to all the pontification in innumerable ‘We The People’ shows and other programs about women’s emancipation, equal rights, stringent laws to protect women against sexual harassment in the work place etc.? Why the stoned silence when harsh reality has hit home?

Did NDTV refuse to carry her story because, if rumours are to be believed, Prannoy Roy himself has a glad eye? Or is it because he holds the view that it is a part of the job of female journalists that he employs to get horizontal to “rise” vertically in political circles, right up to RCR, as we have seen happen? Or is it because the politician involved is a Congressman, not someone from the opposition, and that too, as it appears from the language employed by him, someone whose sole claim to stardom is his friendship with Rajiv Gandhi, and now Sonia Gandhi?

Remember how a few years back, Tehelka had entrapped military officers and politicians with prostitutes and money in a manifestly politically motivated and paid sting operation? If that was a big story, was not Sunetra’s story even bigger? A politician shamelessly seeking sexual favours from an NDTV employee in the presence of a third person?

Manifestly, the politician was ‘cock’sure that Prannoy Roy would take no cognisance and would bury the matter, even if his employee mustered enough courage to complain to him. And that the famed Barkha Dutt would also not have any courage to fly into her famous rage to come to the rescue of her colleague, and, in the process, spill the many rotten beans that have for decades remained canned.

The Indian media maintains an Omerta about the “private” lives of politicians. As Barkha Dutt said once, it is nobody’s business to know who sleeps with whom. No one can argue aganist that view. But is sleeping for pleasure or love same as sleeping for business or career advancement/getting an inside scoop? Does it not, then, become a straightforward case of corruption, of giving and receiving a plain bribe? Can the sexual harassment that Chaudhury was subjected to construed by any sane person as the private matter of a politician? The guy was aggressively and arrogantly seeking sexual favours to give her the story she wanted, and it is not news for NDTV, or even rival channels?

Is the rot deeper than we know? Is the nexus between politicians and journalists far more perverse than we believe?

When the ND Tiwari sex scandal came to light last year, thanks not to the mainstream media which would have known about him for decades, Madhu Kishwar openly said on Face The Nation that Delhi's political landscape was one giant brothel.

Sunetra’s story and the manner in which it has been hushed up by NDTV, forcing her to write her tale of woe in DNA, perhaps the only leading newspaper that was willing to carry it, tell us that Kishwar was not only right but that the rot is far deeper, and that some politicians brazenly treat female journalists as no more than easy meat. In fact, Sunetra herself has made a mention -- not without reason -- about the text messages being received by an unnamed NDTV colleague from a cabinet minister seeking her sexual services. That the colleague has chosen to remain silent, possibly like others at NDTV, gives a very disturbing picture about the code of professional and journalistic ethics that Prannoy Roy has instituted at the channels that he owns.

The picture in other media-cum-business houses is probably no better, given that no other female journalist has ever mustered the courage to complain in the manner the Sunetra Chaudhury has.

Yes, no one has any business to know who is sleeping with whom. But, the first-hand peek that Sunetra has given to the public in near real-time leaves little room for doubt that this self-imposed silence of the media is more to protect the reputations of its fraternity that has been and is using sex a potent investigative/information/power/pelf tool, than to keep their private lives private. NDTV, of course, stands exposed and shamed as it has never been. But, like Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prannoy Roy has once again neither spoken nor taken any action. And he is not a puppet on a string. May be along some dimensions he is.

The litany of exposures about media’s dark deeds gets longer with every passing day. The fig leaf is beginning to fall.