Tehelka’s classic abuse of power
While some holier-than-thou voices in the media have already questioned the brouhaha over the Tejpal muck-storm, requesting others to stop turning the episode into a slugfest accusing Tehelka top brass of unceremonious conduct, the moot point is something else altogether. Besides the alleged criminality of Tarun Tejpal’s behaviour, using his power and position to force sexual liaison on his junior colleague, it needs to be asked why Tehelka of all news organisations, did not have a sexual harassment complaint cell in place before the hullaballoo compelled it to form one? While there’s not an inkling of doubt over the sincerity and brilliance of the arguments that Shoma Chaudhury, the harrowed managing editor of the publication, who has been in the line of fire ever since the news broke, put forward in her columns on women’s predicament, the skewed gender debate, the question of the ordinariness of sexual violence and rape against women, where had those ideas disappeared when it came to practising what she had been preaching all this while? Are we to believe that priorities, whatever that might mean to different people at different times, get redesigned when the tides turn and the finger points towards you? The fact of the matter remains that this particular incident is not the first episode of sexual assault within the organisation: reports are emerging of other incidents and cries of help that had gone unheeded in the past many years, with several disgruntled and deeply dissatisfied employees, both men and women, either resorting to imposed silence or submitting their resignation as a way out. Does that not diminish the stellar work done by Tehelka from time to time, reinvigorating journalism with their investigative reporting on one hand, but also calling into question the ethical and moral fulcrums of those very operations?
Is this a trial by media? Has the Tehelka case become more of a reflection of media’s own demons than it is about the more general and more commonplace case of sexual harassment at work place? The answer is both yes and no. Of course, this is media’s finest and ugliest hour, both at once. Tehelka has lost the credibility that it had gained over years and years of good (even if questionable) journalism. And even though we might claim that the organisation is more than the sum of its two star faces, namely Tejpal and Chaudhury, it is equally true that Tehelka is a classic case of media branding and hype attached to the supposed flamboyance and lifestyle of a man and his clique. Naturally, the question is not about how expansive your moral compass is, but whether you breached the law of the land in doing what you did. Hence, what needs to be criticised and rightly so is Tejpal’s sense of impunity and his hiding behind purple prose to orchestrate his self-exculpation from the crime. What needs to be highlighted is how Tehelka, like several other news organisations, has held the junior employees’ well being at ransom and extracted its pound of flesh by systematically abusing its stranglehold, both as a brand and as a part of the fourth estate.