Sexual harassment
TNM got in touch with news organisations across the states in south India to investigate the state of the Internal Complaints Committees (ICC).
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Indian media, and largely the English media, is witnessing its #MeToo moment, with men being accused of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, gaslighting, stealthing, emotional abuse and more, abusing their power and more —- at various stages of their career, and the abuse dates back to the early days of their careers. Many of these people have also issued statements and apologies, where they have said that they willing to present themselves in front of an ICC or any legal authority.

The ICC, or the Internal Complaints Committee, formed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, of 2013 is mandatory by law in organisations to receive complaints about the sexual harassment of women. As per the law, any organisation or unit that has 10 or more employees must have an ICC, headed by a senior woman of the unit. 50% of its members have to be women and needs to have one external woman member (lawyer, NGO worker or social worker who has worked on women’s issues).

Five years ago, Sun TV anchor Akila dragged her alleged abuser, the channel’s former editor V Raja, to court. But in five years, news organisations have changed stances, become more vocal about these issues. However, what is the state of the ICC in regional media organisations?

Telugu

The situation is grim in Telugu news organisations. None of the organisations TNM reached out had an ICC as per law.

Dinesh Akula, the editor of TV5, said, “In such cases, the complainant generally approaches HR, which looks into all such complaints. On the basis on that, an ad-hoc committee is formed to look into the allegations and submit a report.”

Vaartha responded that they did not have an ICC. "We don't have such cells. Nobody does such things here,” said an editor at Vaartha.

"We have an HR in-charge for each department. When someone raises a complaint, they will verify the authenticity of these claims and forward the complaint to the grievance cell,” Eenadu’s HR said. The situation is largely the same in Andhra Jyothi as well. Speaking to TNM, an HR personnel said, “'We don't have enough female employees. And if there's some complaint, they'll go and tell the editor.”

A senior member of ETV Telugu was not aware of the existence of an ICC in the organisation. TV9 Telugu told TNM that they will revert and when TNM receives their response, this copy will be updated.

Kannada

For Prajavani, Chief of Reporting Jagadeesh Vaiga confirmed that they have an ICC, which was corroborated by a reporter in the organisation.

"There is an ICC which deals with complaints made by women and is headed by a woman. More than 50% people in the committee are women and a representative from HR was made the head recently. The committee was put in place after the Sexual Harassment Act,” Jagadeesh said.

“I have worked in Udayavani and Vijay Karnataka and I know for a fact that Vijaya Karnataka has had it for the last 5-7 years. In Prajavani, I was notified by email one month ago saying these people are part of the committee and this is how it works,” he added.

News18 Kannada editor Siddappa Kolaji told TNM that an ICC is in place, and complaints are handled by the committee not only related to sexual harassment.

At Karnataka-based English daily Deccan Herald, things are starting to look up. Their ICC was recently formed, but trainings are yet to be conducted. 

Arun BS, Deputy Editor at Deccan Herald, said, “Yes, an internal committee exists and a woman is the head of it. We have followed procedure in setting it up.” Employees at the organisation said that they have been notified by email about the recently constituted committee, but no trainings have been held.

When TNM reached out to News9, a senior employee stated that though an active ICC is there, senior employees handle the complaints and women are not part of the ICC, since there are currently no senior woman employees who work at the organisation.

“Definitely we need to buck up with so many things happening around. We have to do something regarding this. So far for the last couple of years, there have been no cases so nobody has shown any interest in this,” he said.

However, the organisation's official response stated that it has an active ICC in place. "We have an Internal Complaints Committee presided by Ms Shreeti Chakraborty. The committee comprises of four members. Three of them are women working in our organisation and one male who is an outsider. The committee meets every three months to look into complaints. They work as per the guidelines of the Sexual harassment of women at workplace Act, 2013", stated a response from Praveen Kumar, Legal and Channel Distribution,TV9 Karnataka Pvt Ltd. 

Tamil

In Tamil Nadu, the editorial staff at several vernacular news organisations claim to have a fully functioning ICC. But female reporters at the ground level are largely unaware of its existence and constitution.

The Editor-in-Chief of News18 Tamil, M Gunasekaran, for instance, tells TNM that the channel has an ICC at the corporate level (it is part of the Network18 group). He further adds that there have been no complaints filed with the ICC so far by employees. But employees TNM contacted say that they are not aware of who heads the ICC or the identity of its members. What more, no form of training has been imparted to employees as to what falls under the category of sexual harassment and how they can address it.

Thanthi TV's editor-in-chief Rangaraj Pandey reserved comment on the matter. Two employees confirmed that they have an ICC and they had been informed about the members on the committee. However, no trainings have been conducted yet.

In Puthiya Thalaimurai, the senior editorial staff, as well as the reporters, are unaware if the organisation has an ICC in place.

In Polimer News, meanwhile, Editor Velraj said that he is the head of the ICC. When we pointed out that only a senior woman can head the committee as per law, he clarified that women were also part of the eight-member team. He further added that they had received no complaints from any of the staff members yet.

A former employee of Polimer, however, claims that no such committee is in place and if it was, no information was passed on to the staff. She alleged that lewd comments based on the appearance of female employees - often made by a senior management-level staff member - was considered a norm in the newsroom.

At News7, a senior member of the editorial team said they have an ICC as stipulated by the law from 2014.

"A senior woman heads the ICC and we have a person from the administrative side. 70% of the committee comprises women. A member of the larger corporate group's legal team is also part of the ICC. We also have an active WhatsApp group where women discuss any important issues," he said. "Whatever instances of harassment have risen in the past have been dealt with severely," he adds.

Employees at News 7, however, express lack of knowledge on the existence of the committee and its members. In the past, matters of harassment have allegedly been handled at an interpersonal level without roping in the committee, an employee said. When informed of this, an editorial member told TNM that a training session will be carried out.

Vikatan has multiple magazines in circulation and a large network of employees tells TNM that they do have an ICC in place. They further claim to have stipulated the necessary conditions, including training employees to handle complaints. A female employee, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed this. The ICC is made up of six men and one woman.

"Vikatan has an ICC in place and that all employees are trained on how to go about such complaints during the induction program. The committee is made up of six members of which there’s one woman. Previously, the external member was a woman. Now it’s a male lawyer," she told TNM. "The final decision of the committee rests with the woman member. The committee always maintains the anonymity of the person who has filed a complaint," she added.

She recalled three instances where such complaints were made. On two occasions, the male employees accused of sexual misconduct were sacked. In the third complaint, that involved a senior editor, the committee tried convincing the woman, assured her that it wouldn’t happen again. She, however, did not want to work under such circumstances and quit her job.

At The Hindu Tamil, Editor K Asokan confirms that the vernacular version of the paper has a separate committee.

"We have 100% followed the law in terms of composition of the committee. It has been only a year since we followed," he explains. A female employee, however, said, "We have a minimum number of women. We follow whatever is in Hindu English."

Malayalam

In Kerala, regional media was not forthcoming with information on the existence of ICCs in their organisations.

The management at Asianet News confirmed that the organisation does have a legally constituted and properly functioning ICC. A reporter from Asianet news also said that names and numbers of the ICC members have been put up everywhere in the office.

“We have an ICC and it is reconstituted every year. Everyone gets e-mails regarding workplace harassment and how to file a complaint in case you’re subjected to it. A circular containing numbers of all members and the external members mailed to us and copies of the circular with the numbers are put out everywhere in our office,” said Akhila, a reporter for Asianet News.

Two reporters at Kerala Kaumudi, a Malayalam newspaper, claim that while committee may exist, there is no information on who the members are.

"As far I know, the organisation does take action in case of workplace harassment cases. We can directly complain to the Chief Editor if there are problems. We even have a committee to address these issues as far as I know. But I’m not sure of the details,” said a reporter from Kerala Kaumudi.

In Mathrubhumi newspaper, one of Kerala's leading papers, reporters have said that although they do know there is a committee that looks into workplace harassment cases, they do not know who the members are or how they are to be approached.

"We have a 5 member committee with 3 woman members. Our external member is doctor Rita Unnikrishnan, former principal, Government Law College. The list of names is exhibited in one of our notice boards also," Sreekala from Mathrubhumi told TNM.

The reporter, on the other hand, said that they approach senior colleagues to get grievances addressed and was not sure of who was on the committee.

“When we do have problems, we usually speak to senior colleagues. The management is also proactive in terms of sexual harassment cases and takes action right away,” the reporter from Mathrubhumi newspaper told TNM.

News organisations in south India are now stepping up after several reputed men were outed as alleged sexual harassers. When TNM reached out to Malayalam and Tamil news organisations, the reactions we received were somewhat positive - while ICCs were present, most employees were unsure or unaware of the rules and how complaints are to be filed. Telugu media, however, desperately needs an overhaul when it comes to the formation of ICCs.

Most organisations have stated that they have a corporate ICC in place. However, the Act specifies that any wing of the organisation that has 10 or more employees needs to have a separate ICC for that wing.

"The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandates all the workplace which include any department, organisation, undertaking, establishment, enterprise, institution, office, branch or unit which is established, owned, controlled or wholly or substantially financed by funds provided directly or indirectly by the appropriate Government or the local authority or a Government company or a corporation or a co-operative society having more than 10 workers to constitute Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) for receiving complaints of sexual harassment," reads a release from the Press Information Bureau of India.

Edit: The story has been updated with an official response from News 9, the English news channel based in Bengaluru.

NOTE: TNM had earlier published that Sakshi does not have an Internal Complaints Committee, as per the information provided by a senior staff member. While this was the information we were given at the time of publication, we received a clarification from CPN Karthik, Company Secretary of Jagati Publications, on October 17, 2018, that Sakshi Newspaper has an ICC, constituted in 2014. We are reflecting the change with this note.

(The News Minute has an internal complaints committee, constituted as per the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. For any complaints, you can contact the chairperson, Ragamalika Karthikeyan at ragamalika@thenewsminute.com)

(With inputs from Anjana Shekar, Balakrishna Ganeshan, Haripriya Suresh, Nitin B, Prajwal Bhat, Priyanka Thirumurthy and Sreedevi Jayarajan)