A politician told a journalist that that he will give an interview to a male journalist, and not a woman journalist.

Trying to make a Saseendran of me Mangalam sting makes life tough for women journosImage for representation.
news Media Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 13:57

“This note is for those people who have been lambasting all women journalists following Mangalam channel's news,” wrote News 18 journalist Suvi Vishwanathan in a Facebook post.

The journalist is in Kerala’s Malappuram to cover the upcoming bye-poll. For a report she was doing, Suvi called a senior CPI(M) leader to ask him for an interview. While the usual answers are a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, Suvi got something entirely unexpected.

“I called a senior CPI(M) leader on phone, asking for his interview. "What is it for, do you want to make me AK Saseendran?" came his reply. He said that he will give an interview to a male journalist, and not a woman journalist,” Suvi wrote.

The politician’s response comes in the wake of an ‘expose’ done by Mangalam TV, a newly launched Malayalam news channel from the Mangalam group’s stables. The ‘expose’ was an audio clipping, which was first aired during the channel’s very first bulletin, and allegedly had former Transport Minister AK Saseendran having an sexually explicit phone conversation with an unknown woman, whose voice was edited out.

While Mangalam TV has claimed that the woman on the other end was harassed by the Minister after she went to him for some help, there are several reports questioning this version of events. In fact, several people have raised suspicion over whether the clipping was in fact a honey trap.

The allegations against Mangalam TV have been strengthened after a woman journalist who was part of the channel resigned on Wednesday. In an interview to The Indian Express, Al Neema Ashraf claimed that the channel had formed an ‘investigation team’, whose job was to ‘trap’ people who were seen as vulnerable to such stings.

“In one of our meetings, they gave us a list of officials to target. We were told that the names were potential targets who were vulnerable to getting trapped,” Al Neema told Arun Janardhanan of Indian Express.

The journalist said that she had opposed the proposal, and was therefore sidelined from the investigation team. A few months down the line, she saw “rushes of an interview of Saseendran”, Al Neema claimed. While she herself wasn’t part of the team, the reporter said she knew “what was happening”.

Al Neema told TNM that ever since she took a stance against Mangala, she was being trolled by many of the groups supporters and posts defaming her had come up on Facebook.

With reports that some women journalists were used to ‘trap’ men, the entire community is facing abuse and insults in Kerala. Several media persons have come out in solidarity with women journos.

The Kerala chapter of the Network of Women in Media in India has in fact written to the state Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, drawing his attention to the matter. In their letter, NWMI said that because of the (alleged) sting, women reporters everywhere are being accused of involvement in honey traps.

“Such allegations are affecting our work, and this is very insulting,” the letter said.

"I welcome the decision for a judicial probe, I take it in good faith. But things are becoming worse with every passing day. Women journalists in Kerala are facing the back lash and it is turning out to be more serious than what we had imagined in the beginning. Women in this profession face multiple challenges both at the work place and from their family and surroundings. In such a scenario, present developments will only add to their woes,” Shahina Nafeesa, senior journalist with Open Magazine told TNM.

While Mangalam group has a reputation of sensationalising and even putting out false news, that hasn’t stopped the public and even a few politicians from questioning the credibility of every woman journalist in Kerala over the alleged sting.

As BRP Bhaskar wrote in an earlier piece for TNM, “Mangalam was one of dailies which unquestioningly accepted material handed out by shadowy police and political sources. They entertained readers for weeks in the 1990s with fanciful stories of a Maldivian woman, Mariam Rashida, who alleged spied on the Indian Space Research Organization’s establishment for Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence, and siphoned off valuable information on rocket engines with the help of two top scientists.”

READ: In the age of ‘breaking news’: Mangalam’s sordid history and murky journalism

The CBI had later found that this story was a fabrication, and the Supreme Court had upheld the finding.

But such details of Mangalam’s sordid history of murky journalism do little to change the minds of many who believe they are walking targets.

The politician who spoke to Suvi Vishwanathan, TK Hamza, is one of them.

"People can raise any sorts of allegations at any time. But that needn't be the truth,” Hamsa told TNM. While he denied Suvi’s version of events, Hamsa was very defensive.

“I did not say anything like the woman journalist is claiming. That's not what I said. What I said is that Saseendran's honey trap is being widely discussed now, and joked whether that will repeat. That was merely a joke...it needn't be blown out of proportion. That's how i generally talk,” Hamsa said.

However, he added, "See, I do not know who is calling me claiming to be journalist. So, to be on the safe side, I believe that it is safer to interact with journalists I know personally. I didn't know that such a thing like a honey trap exists. I have heard that it happens in America, but didn't know that journalists use it here!”

For women journalists though, doing their jobs just got that much more difficult.

As Suvi wrote in her Facebook post, “In my seven-year career in journalism, I have not given any news that I felt was not genuine. Not just me, but most of the women journalists abide by ethics while reporting. I have never felt that I was in any way limited, for I am a woman. That's how dearly I consider my profession, and I chose it out of my own free will. I do not believe that the credibility of journalism has been lost because of the news Mangalam aired. What can we do if paparazzi chose to publish such news?”

(With inputs from Megha Varier)

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