While Akila says her colleagues' damaging testimonies saddened her, a few say they stated the truth.

A sexual harassment case against Sun TV editor in 2013 and a battle between journalists
news Defamation Saturday, April 22, 2017 - 12:46

What started as a complaint of sexual harassment by a journalist and news anchor against her senior in 2013, four years later become a battle between her and several of her colleagues. 

On one side is 32-year-old Akila, who took her colleagues to court for defamation three years ago, to fight against her “tarnished reputation”. 

On the other side are eight women journalists, who did not extend their support to Akila when she  complained against their boss.

Akila, a former employee of Sun network, left her job at one of Tamil Nadu's top news channels in 2014, after she was allegedly sexually harassed by V Raja, the former Chief Editor of the channel. According to the complainant, the first face-off with her then colleagues took place at the police station in 2013, when she was filing a sexual harassment case. 

The constant harassment

Akila joined Sun TV in December 2011 as a news anchor. But six months later, despite her probation ending, she was not given a confirmation letter. This was allegedly because she had not made the “compromises” expected of her. 

According to Akila, in November 2012, in a telephonic conversation, Raja  complimented on her appearance before he went on to ask what she would give him in return for the confirmation of her job. She says when she refused to oblige, what followed was continuous harassment in the newsroom, threats to transfer her and continuous early morning shifts.

Distressed and unable to bear the harassment, Akila approached the Tamil Nadu police with a sexual harassment complaint against Raja, and Vetrivendhen, who was a news bulletin schedule coordinator. 

"Several people from my office, including the eight accused, came rushing to the police station when they realised I was filing a case against Raja. They all urged me to not complain," Akila said. "I finally had to yell asking them what they would have done if this had happened to them," she said.

The next battle

Following Akila's complaint, the Human Resources team of the channel formed a committee to enquire into her allegations. As she sat there, listening to her colleagues testify against her, she says, she went through moments that was more painful than the harassment itself. 

"Of all the people summoned, eight women said the worst things about me. We were friends, or so I thought. They said the most despicable lies about me and it amounted to character assassination," Akila said. "This was not happening just at the committee hearing. They were spreading malicious rumours about me throughout the office," she added.

Following this, in addition to the sexual harassment case, she also decided to file a defamation suit in 2014. "I sent them a legal notice and when they didn't respond I decided to take it to court. Initially, they filed a petition saying they won't appear in court, but we argued against it and demanded that they appear for cross questioning. The Judge agreed and called for a hearing in February but they didn't show up,” she said.

Following this, the lawyer representing the accused, reportedly claimed he had not been able to communicate with them regarding the summons. Seven of the accused then appeared in court in a hearing held in March. "Cross questioning was then supposed to begin on April 20 but the accused never turned up and the case, which is in its final stages, is just not ending," Akila said. 

The judge too seems to have had enough, because the metropolitan magistrate court in Saidapet issued an arrest warrant against the seven television channel staff, following their failure to appear. One of them was not included, as she had excused herself from proceedings due to a personal emergency. 

"We said it like it was"

Of the eight accused in the defamation case, only two still work with Sun network. Two of them have moved to Thanthi TV, while two others currently work in News 18. The last accused is no longer associated with the media industry and her current occupation is not known.

The News Minute got in touch with two of those named in the case and they said that their lawyer did not communicate the date of the hearing to them correctly. "But even if he did, we can't keep attending every hearing that happens," said one of the journalists, who has moved out of Sun TV. "The case has been going on for years and we just want to get it over with as well," the 30-year-old said.

Meanwhile, the other journalist is sticking to her stand regarding the allegations against Akila. "We did not say anything that was untrue. We told the committee that she was always late by two hours for her morning shift, which begins at 5 am," she said. "I was a news-scheduler and we never gave her any additional morning shifts. That is just a lie. Plus, all our duty times are different. How can we even gather at the same time in a newsroom? For years now, we have been the real victims of harassment. We are forced to go to the court all the time, for merely stating the truth," she added. 

When told about these charges, Akila laughs and asked, "For two years there were no complaints about my so-called irregularity but suddenly after I complained about Raja, all these accusations comes pouring in?" 

But that is not all; the accused even went on to question her relationship with one of her colleagues. Akila however merely dismissed the statement as lies. “Girls, who had just joined three months before this incident happened, were saying in their statements, that I was a blot on the organisation. It is a travesty of justice," she said.

Akila is now also fighting the sexual harassment case that she had filed and it is in its final stages. Cross-questioning will reportedly begin in the next hearing.  Raja, who was arrested, after her complaint, was out on bail immediately and is allegedly still involved with the Sun network. While he managed to easily retain his spot, she was forced to run from pillar to post for a new job. But she has now been hired as an anchor in a Tamil news channel and is confident of winning both cases in court.

 

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