Statement: The Wire’s Handling of the Sexual Harassment Charge Against Vinod Dua

The Wire’s editors unreservedly apologise for the manner in which the allegation was trivialised in the last episode of Vinod Dua’s ‘Jan Gan Man ki Baat’.

The following is a note issued by The Wire on October 20, 2018.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, which The Wire has vigorously reported on and supported editorially because sexual harassment is one of the major problems of our times, an allegation of sexual harassment was made against one of our consulting editors, Vinod Dua. He has been anchoring the popular video show, Jan Gan ki Baat, four times a week, from Tuesday to Friday, since 2017.

The Wire was founded in 2015. Ms Nishtha Jain’s allegation pertains to incidents which occurred in 1989.

On the very day her Facebook post appeared, i.e. Sunday, October 14, the chairperson of The Wire’s internal complaints committee (ICC) – the body tasked by law to investigate allegations of sexual harassment at the workplace – informed other ICC members of the serious nature of the allegation and said the committee should take note of it.

The ICC met the very next day, i.e. Monday, October 15, and decided to request Ms Jain to submit a complaint to the ICC so that its processes could formally commence. Ms Jain said she would do so soon.

On October 17, 2018, i.e. three days after Ms Jain first made her allegation, The Wire announced the formation of an external committee to look into her charges. We had been working on this initiative to obviate issues of the ICC’s jurisdiction with regard to an incident that may be seen as beyond its remit. We were also keen to ensure that the proceedings are conducted by persons of unimpeachable integrity and impartiality.

Working quickly, we secured the consent of former Supreme Court judge Aftab Alam, former judge of the Patna high court Justice Anjana Prakash, Prof Neera Chandhoke and former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh to be members of an external committee to investigate/examine Ms Jain’s complaint in a time-bound manner. The names were shared with her. She requested that a fifth person, also a woman, be added, a suggestion to which we readily agreed. Prof Patricia Uberoi is the fifth member.

Since the members of the committee were putting their other commitments on hold in order to help The Wire address Ms Jain’s allegation and since she herself had indicated in her Facebook posts that she expected prompt action, we wrote to her on October 17 requesting that she convey her consent and her complaint by October 18. She wrote back asking for time till October 26 to file her complaint, a suggestion we readily agreed to. We did, however request that she at least convey her consent now so that we can confirm with the members of the committee that the process is on. This she did on the evening of October 18.

With all consents in place, The Wire made an announcement about the committee’s precise composition on October 20. The members have selected Justice Alam as their chair. Once Ms Jain’s complaint is received by its secretariat, the external committee will decide on the schedule it intends to adhere to.

A number of other questions about The Wire’s handling of Ms Jain’s allegation have been put to us by readers, well-wishers, The Wire‘s Public Editor and our own colleagues at The Wire. We believe the most important question – how does The Wire intend to handle Ms Jain’s allegation against its consulting editor – has been answered above. But there are other questions and concerns which we would like to address below, as they have been put to us over the past few days.

Q1. Why did The Wire not terminate Mr Dua or suspend his show as soon as Ms Jain’s allegation was made?

A1. The MeToo movement has produced allegations dealing with a range of situations, all of which require a range of responses. Complaints of contemporary sexual harassment at the workplace require immediate changes in work assignment if the complainant and alleged harasser work together or if the latter has a supervisory function. Complaints of older incidents that occurred in a media house’s workplace would call for different kinds of steps. Complaints related to older incidents that are completely unconnected to a media house’s workplace would require still other responses. Complaints that pertain to allegations of abuse and even violence, especially partner violence, which are unconnected to the media house’s workplace, but implicate the character of an employee, require a different set of protocols.

Like other media houses, we too have had to think hard about our options in responding, in this instance, to Ms Jain’s complaint against Mr Dua which goes back to 1989. There was no roadmap to follow.

The guiding principles in deciding on any interim measures (such as suspension of an individual) is to check first

  1. whether the prevention of continuing or prospective harm requires suspension of the person;
  2. whether the continuation of the person may affect people over whom he has a supervisory relationship;
  3. whether the continuation of the person may prejudice the outcome of any current investigation;
  4. whether the continuation of the person may prejudice the public perception of any current investigation, since there are reputational issues also at stake
  5. whether there is a clear road map in terms of making that suspension permanent or revoking it – in the absence of which it would remain indefinite, neither lifted nor converted to a termination.

The answers to 1 and 2 above were clearly negative. Mr Dua is not a supervisor. Nor have there been any complaints about his behaviour while at The Wire. Since no investigation had commenced, the question of 3 and 4 did not arise.

Now that we have a committee in place and Ms Jain has conveyed her consent to its time-bound proceedings, the answer to the fifth question is yes: there is now a concrete roadmap. Thus, Vinod Dua’s show, which he had voluntarily suspended for a week, will not be aired and will remain suspended till the committee completes its work.

Q2. Why did The Wire give a platform to allow Mr Dua to dismiss all allegations against him?

A2. No investigation against Mr. Dua had commenced at the time he recorded his episode of ‘Jan Gan Man ki Baat’. The ICC had reached out to Ms Jain on October 15 and requested a formal complaint so as to commence its proceedings. No complaint was received. The external committee fell into place on October 17 and we received Ms Jain’s consent to it.

Mr Dua committed himself to making a short statement announcing the suspension of his programme to give The Wire space to look into Ms Jain’s allegations – which The Wire itself had reported on – and to precede that by saying he rejected her charges, as was his right, as an accused person. Our view was that his dismissal of the charges, from the platform of his show on The Wire or any other media outlet, would have no bearing on any investigation to be conducted against him.

Mr. Dua could possibly have issued a separate statement on the matter, unconnected with his show. However, it was felt that he would need to explain to his viewers – who are a large part of The Wire‘s audience – why he was suspending the show.

Q3. Does The Wire agree with Vinod Dua’s dismissal of the MeToo movement?

A3. No it does not. The Wire’s support for the MeToo movement is clear from its continuing reportage and its editorial. The first, detailed account by a journalist of her experience at the Asian Age working under M.J. Akbar was published by The Wire.

Q4. If The Wire supports MeToo, why did it allow Mr Dua to dismiss the allegations?

A4. The Wire is a media platform and in all its coverage of MeToo it has followed two principles: (1) no reporting of anonymous complaints, and (2) reaching out to the persons accused to give them a chance to say whatever they want by way of defence, refutation, dismissal, etc. Like others accused, Mr Dua had the right to dismiss the allegations made against himself. Others accused also have that right.

Q5. Why did Vinod Dua suspend his show and specify he was doing so for a week?

A5. Mr Dua has been conscious of the fact that the allegation against him may hurt The Wire and volunteered to suspend his show to give us time and space to investigate the charge in any way we wished to. He said he would record his show as usual, but also mention to his viewers that an accusation had been made against him, that he denied the accusation completely but that he would suspend his show for a week to give The Wire time to decide how it wished to proceed. He also  said that after a week he wold announce whether the show would continue or not. The Wire has since set up an investigation committee.  As we have noted, Mr Dua’s show will remain suspended for the duration of its work.

Q6. Does The Wire endorse Mr Dua’s statement that keechad (mud) has been flung on him?

A6. Mr Dua is within his rights as a person accused of sexual harassment to say the accusation is false and to characterise it any way he wishes. Others who have faced accusations have also rejected those allegations, some with more finesse and tact. While the MeToo movement is not without its limitations, and these can and should be vigorously debated, at its core is the struggle by women to give voice to their own experiences of sexual violence and harassment both as a means of encouraging other survivors to speak up and to ensure that some accountability or justice prevails.

It would be unfair and inaccurate to suggest this movement in general is about mudslinging. Such a view runs totally counter to The Wire’s editorial position. His programme went up without any editorial filter and was a major failure of oversight at our end. Some comments he made at the start of the programme about the MeToo movement as a diversion were edited out later, as soon as they were brought to our notice.

Q7. Do you agree with Mr Dua saying the allegations against him do not amount to sexual harassment but just of harassment (‘pareshaani’)?

A7. Without going in to whether the allegation is true or false – and The Wire reiterates that it endorses neither Ms Jain’s charge nor Mr Dua’s denial – there is no doubt that it is an allegation of conduct that falls within the broad rubric of “sexual harassment”. That is why the headline and contents of The Wire’s report on Ms Jain’s allegation, ‘Filmmaker Accuses Vinod Dua of Sexually Harassing, Stalking Her in 1989 Incident’, make this clear.

The Wire’s editors unreservedly apologise for the manner in which the allegation was mischaracterised and trivialised in the last episode of  ‘Jan Gan Man ki Baat’.

Siddharth Varadarajan
Sidharth Bhatia
M.K. Venu

October 20, 2018

Note: There was an error in the numbering of the questions and answers in which we went straight from Q4/A4 to Q6/A6. The numbering has been corrected to reflect the fact that there are only seven questions and answers. Some more details about the external committee have also been added.