#MeToo: MJ Akbar threatens legal action; Vinod Dua faces allegations

Happy mcgarrybowen CEO, Kartik Iyer, and the agency’s CCO PM Praveen Das and iProspect CCO Dinesh Swamy put on administrative leave pending investigation into allegations against all three of them

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Oct 15, 2018 9:22 AM
Me Too

The past week has been a grim one in spite of the festive mood in the air. Allegations of grave sexual misconduct ranging from sexist remarks, body-shaming to physical and sexual assaults – the second wave of the #MeToo movement born in the United States last year - against as many as six senior advertising industry executives and ad agency founders, besides well-known actors, film-makers and editors, made headlines and created an upheaval on social media. 

In a recent development, Minister of State for External Affairs, MJ Akbar, has denied all allegations levelled against him calling them “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice.” Akbar has been accused of being a sexual predator by at least 14 women who have worked with him at various newspapers and publications. 

He released a statement on Sunday upon his return from an official tour of Nigeria. Akbar said in the statement that he will now decide the “future course of legal action” after looking into “these wild and baseless allegations” along with his lawyers. 

Akbar said in the statement, “accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections.” He went on to question why these allegations are being brought up before the upcoming general elections. “Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge,” he said. 

Yet another senior journalist’s name emerged in the #MeToo movement on Sunday. Filmmaker Nishtha Jain has accused Vinod Dua, Consulting Editor, The Wire, of demeaning her during an interview, stalking her and “slobbering” all over her face.

In a statement posted to Twitter, The Wire said that Dua denies the charges. The statement also said that the ICC of The Wire has taken note of Jain’s allegation and that the website’s founding editors will “await the outcome of their deliberations on the matter.” The Internal Complaints Committee at The Wire is headed by Monobina Gupta, Managing Editor, The Wire.

On Saturday, Times of India’s Hyderabad Editor, KR Sreenivas, who was facing allegations of sexual misconduct, resigned from his post. He was put on administrative leave pending investigation into the allegations against him earlier in the week. 

According to media reports, Sreenivas has reportedly stated in his resignation letter that he is quitting because he is being “targetted.” Sreenivas’ resignation is the second resignation in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Last week Hindustan Times’ Prashant Jha stepped down from his post as the Chief of Bureau following allegations of sexual misconduct by a former HT employee.

The world of advertising has also come under scrutiny following multiple allegation against senior industry leaders. Highly placed sources have confirmed that three employees of the Dentsu Aegis Network who were facing allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment have been put on administrative leave. Happy mcgarrybowen CEO, Kartik Iyer, and the agency’s CCO PM Praveen Das and iProspect CCO Dinesh Swamy are all expected to be on leave for at least another two weeks while DAN’s ICC conducts its investigation into the matter. 

With more and more allegations cropping up every day, the question being asked is – have organizations been doing enough to address sexual harassment at the workplace? We reached out to some of the prominent media organisations, creative and media agencies to understand the steps they are taking internally to provide a safer environment for their employees. 

Dentsu Aegis Network had enforced a Women’s Council at DAN India in 2016, led by Rajni Menon, CEO, Carat India and other senior women leaders. Speaking about the steps that the network takes, Sunil Seth, Head HR Business Partner, Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia says, “We have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) as per the ‘Prevention of Sexual Harassment’ guidelines of setting up one ICC per location per legal entity. This was further strengthened by enforcing a Women’s Council at DAN India. DAN was one of the first organizations to take such an initiative. Members of the committee are senior members of the organization with equal representation to avoid any gender bias and supported by an external legal counsel, a subject matter expert in the field of handling harassment issues at the workplace.” 

Seth further states that the members of the committee are also provided training to be able to conduct investigation holistically within the framework of the Act. He says, “Employees are made aware during induction of new joinees, through online training modules mandatory for all employees to go through once a year, as well as through display of posters and other communication materials in the office from time to time. We carry out a complete campaign encouraging people to complete the online course which details out the elements of behaviour which can constitute harassment and to re-emphasize, it is coupled with a situational quiz at the end of every module.”

For many, having an open and free environment where employees are encouraged to talk about any kind of issues they are facing is important. Anita Nayyar, CEO - India & South Asia, Havas Media Group and CEO, Havas Group, North India, says, “We have taken a lot of measures internally to ensure the safety of our women staff. For example, while travelling back late from office, they are escorted home in an office car. There are also open house forums for them to discuss issues, if any. HR is constantly talking to women employees for continuous feedback to take corrective actions, if required. We also have a sexual harassment committee mandatory for all organizations. I am personally accessible all the time.”

Speaking about the policies against sexual harassment at Sony Pictures Networks India, NP Singh, MD & CEO of SPN India says, “At SPN India, we have a robust anti-sexual harassment policy in place that ensures zero tolerance against any form of sexual harassment. We have an Internal Complaints Committee headed by a senior woman executive with a majority of women members. Sensitizing employees on what constitutes sexual harassment, ways to deal with it and the redressal mechanism in place, is a continuous exercise, deployed effectively throughout the organization by the ICC and women champions.”


While most large organisations have committees in place to deal with sexual misconduct at the workplace, they also invest in sensitizing programmes and training sessions, to keep the conversation going. Prabal Pratap Singh, Managing Editor, News18 India says, “We have a committee that looks into these matters. Our staff is sensitized about the law as we have a continuous training programme. All the juniors and seniors are part of this programme. In the last two years, I have attended three such programmes, some of my team members have even attended six. In light of the #MeToo campaign, I am personally interacting with my colleagues and asking them to be very careful about what they say, how they behave and how they conduct themselves.”
 

Inputs by Samarpita Banerjee and Neeta Nair

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