Did this interview copy go through routine editorial checks?

TERI Pachauri sexual harassment and The Guardians poor journalism
Voices Tuesday, March 29, 2016 - 22:37

The Guardian newspaper published from London is considered to be one among the world’s most credible sources of news, commentary and analysis. So when a thoroughbred in the media space offers an unchallenged platform to an internationally renowned person accused of sexual harassment in his country, questions will and must be raised. The Guardian’s interview with Dr. Rajendra Pachauri slaps journalistic deontology.  It is also a slap on the Indian judiciary. We at The News Minute (TNM) want to call this one out.

Dr. Pachauri is a celebrated expert on sustainable development and related issues. He sits on many chairs and high positions. He is not, as The Guardian says, a Nobel Laureate. He was head of the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on whose behalf he collected the Nobel Prize in 2007 (shared with former US Vice President Al Gore). He resigned from this post in 2015 following the allegations in India making him the highest United Nations (UN) official to do so.

However, his eminence is not related to the matter at hand which is one of sexual harassment. A case is making its way through New Delhi’s courts and in a 500-page charge-sheet, Delhi police has been quoted as saying they have “enough evidence” to prosecute Dr. Pachauri.

The complainant is a young woman who worked directly with him and she has submitted her evidence to the court. The body of information includes emails, telephone messages and SMSs. The matter is sub judice and a hearing is scheduled for early April. An internal TERI enquiry has also backed her claims but TERI has not acted on the report. This is a high profile case in a country where sexual harassment cases are hushed up, especially if they involve influential people and their networks.  Fear of losing a job or a reputation weighs in more heavily on complainants. Civil society groups are also partial, happy to bend with the wind if it looks like the winner will take all.

A flurry of activity closely mimicking efforts to smear and discredit the complainant was set in motion earlier this year after TERI’s report, the filing of the charge-sheet by the police and calls for Pachauri’s dismissal from all TERI-related work. The complainant’s name was casually mentioned in hushed tones (Indian law prohibits this) and her job-description as well as details relating to her work was made public via echo chambers. Her lawyer protested. A male employee of TERI resigned a few weeks ago saying he was being “pressurised” to speak to the complainant and work out a settlement. His complaint is also in a court.

Enter The Guardian. In his interview Dr. Pachauri says he fears he is a victim of a plot by his naysayers from the world of environment and sustainable development. He alleges the complainant assiduously collected information by endearing herself to him while he harboured no more than cordial and kind feelings for a junior employee. By speaking about himself as a victim he has taken the problem from one between two employees of TERI to that of an entire community out to get him.

During the course of the interview The Guardian should have challenged Dr. Pachauri on the issue of all his mails being hacked, his phones being tapped and how someone could have impersonated him. For that is also what he said in the interview. Dr. Pachauri is a well-travelled and well-read man. Neither the benefits of technology nor its problems are unknown to him. He is equally adept with the media. Why was he waiting all this while to speak about being trapped? And why would anyone trap him?

This is the 21st century and hacking on this scale and dimension with a view to defaming an international personality is in the realm of poppycock. Besides there is that internal TERI report which, according to people who know about it say, is unequivocal. Does the report detail all these ‘trapping’ and ‘tracking’ activities by the complainant? Read The Guardian interview here.

Even if we let that pass, here is more. The complainant alleges that while The Guardian had also reached out to her for her response, they did not publish the reply. The Quint has reported on the questions and responses via the complainant’s lawyer. Why would The Guardian do something like this? Read here.

Robust journalism requires transparency and accountability on the part of reporters and editors. Reporters are expected to keep their eye on the ball to get close to the truth, however long it takes and however difficult the task. In this metier, you are only as good as the last story you’ve done and good journalism is about earning the right to lead – everyday.

It is perfectly acceptable for Dr. Pachauri to pick the media he wishes to speak to. What is not acceptable is that a newspaper of The Guardian’s stature leaves gaping holes in its enquiry – gaps that rookie reporters would have signalled. The Guardian has not covered itself in glory here. It may have also muddied the waters ahead of court proceedings in India.

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