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Asia Times article by Saikat Datta uses #MeToo as a garb?

Asia Times

His attack on FMP follows a 2017 WhatsApp chat in which he, upset over the acceptance of an apology by an aggrieved woman, likened her to a rape victim marrying her rapist.


Email 3 on October 13, 2018: FMP's response to Saikat Datta's email 


Dear Saikat Datta


Your October 12 response with “evidence” sadly includes the two emails that the woman journalist sent last year to the interlocutor Manoj Mitta, the first of which said, “please do treat this exchange as a confidential matter”.


She wrote these emails after she had been contacted over the phone, on the basis of your verbal accusation. As already mentioned in our letter to Asia Times, she was categorical that, following an apology at the time of the incident way back in 1994, she did not want to revisit it, much less participate in any probe into it. In the course of the same phone conversation, she even expressed willingness to join the Foundation.


But the next day you had a long WhatsApp chat with Mitta making no secret of your displeasure over the woman journalist’s decision. You were so upset that you made derisive remarks amounting to “victim shaming” (see extracts in the attached files). 



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Asked if you resented her decision, you claimed in your WhatsApp chat on September 17, 2017: “No. I don’t resent anything. Does the marriage of a victim to her rapist make the rapist innocent? Does marriage end the issue of marital rape?”





It is clear from this excerpt that, while claiming to represent the victim, you betrayed a misogynist mindset in which a woman who accepted an apology from an alleged offender was likened to a rape victim marrying a rapist.


The demeaning language you used against the woman journalist reinforced our impression that you could have been driven by an ulterior motive. The offence which was followed by an apology made publicly within 24 hours was that at the end of a late-night party, the alleged offender had held her hand longer than she was comfortable. This 1994 incident was curiously brought up not by the victim but by you, 23 years later and shortly after you had served Reliance as its vice president while the person being accused by you is known for his investigative journalism on the dealings of that corporate group. 


Since the woman journalist reaffirmed in her email that the 1994 incident was a closed chapter for her and that she had no intention of raking it up, there was still no complaint on the basis of which the Foundation could have held an inquiry. Please note that, far from being a power-packed forum or a trade union, FMP is a small collective of journalists willing to volunteer their services for media freedom and quality journalism. Given that we have no workplace or regular staff, we are hardly required under the law to have an ICC. We have still decided to set it up so that we have a structure in place to deal with any complaint in the future. This is in keeping with our record of inquiring or introspecting on a case to case basis. 


The other allegations mentioned in her email were also not actionable as they were attributed to an unnamed man and based purely on hearsay. Even so, taking you seriously, FMP member Vipul Mudgal then contacted the person you claimed to be a witness to a sexist remark in a public meeting and he denied any knowledge of those allegations. Our reluctance to do a “micro scrutiny” without any complaint from any affected woman has been maliciously misrepresented by you as victim blaming. 


Likewise, you have torn out of context the expression, “whatever floats your boat”, or whatever makes you happy, in Mitta’s letter to the woman journalist. The expression was a reference to his disappointment over her changing her mind about joining the Foundation, subsequent to your aforementioned WhatsApp chat with Mitta. You have been misrepresenting everything including the emails in which you are not even marked and the “sum and substance” of our response to your one-sided story carried by Asia Times without our version or any ethical disclosures on your part. 


We do hope that your employer Asia Times has more regard than you for journalistic ethics, due process and the agency of women. We reiterate our demand that Asia Times should withdraw the false allegation against the Foundation and tender an apology on its website.


Satyashree Gandham, Online Convenor

October 13, 2018


Email 2 on October 12, 2018: Saikat Datta's response to FMP's open letter to the Editor, Asia Times

Dear Satyashree Gandham,
Please refer to your email dated October 10, 2018 to us, regarding an opinion piece I had authored. Please note that I have marked a copy of this email to the aggrieved party and other members of FMP in BCC in the interests of transparency and to protect their privacy. 
Please find my detailed response and evidence to support my views. I am attaching the same a PDF for your convenience. I request you to also publish this along with the 'open letter' published on your website.
Thank you,
Best regards,
Saikat Datta

October 12, 2018

A detailed response with evidence to foundation of Media Professionals’ (FMP) rebuttal to an Opinion in Asia Times

The Foundation of Media Professionals (FMP) published an "open letter" to Asia Times in regard to an Opinion piece I had authored recently. This was clearly labelled as an Opinion on the website. 

The sum and substance of FMP’s rebuttal is as follows:
  1. FMP did not receive any complaint
  2. FMP offered to conduct a probe, but the ‘victim’ did not take up the offer
  3. That I was the “complainant” and that I had failed to disclose this fact in my Opinion piece.

Here is my detailed response to the rebuttal. 

I have added emails sent by an aggrieved party directly to an office bearer of FMP that reveals the full facts of the case.

A cursory reading of the enclosed emails will reveal the following:

  1. FMP did receive information about a number of sexual harassment allegations against an office bearer directly from an aggrieved party
  2. The aggrieved party confirmed what had happened to her, but did not want to rake it up again.
  3. Instead, she directed them to fresh new allegations, which she had knowledge of in her mail
  4. She suggested to FMP to ask the concerned office bearer to step down and to also look into the new allegations
  5. At no time, in his response to her, did FMP offer any probe or even look at the new allegations
  6. Instead, in his response, this FMP office bearer went on to blame the aggrieved party. This is now recognised as “victim blaming”.
  7. The subsequent public statement issued by FMP on October 10, 2018 now states that it will form a Prevention of Sexual Harassment committee. Clearly, such a committee did not exist in 2017, when these facts were brought to its notice
  8. These and subsequent facts clearly show that not did FMP not offer a probe into these serious allegations, but also went on to victim blaming and did not have a POSH committee, as mandated by law, to follow up on this information.

As a volunteer of FMP I was legally, ethically and morally bound to bring to the attention of one of the office bearers that they had appointed someone who had faced charges of sexual harassment several times in the past.

One particular incident was from 1994, when the perpetrator was a Business Editor and involved a very junior colleague who had just joined the profession as a young reporter. After seeking permission from this person, referred to as the 'victim' here, I put her in touch with a key person in FMP.

Not only was the perpetrator not removed from his post at FMP, as the aggrieved party suggested to FMP in her email, but has now been given a second tenure this year.

I reproduce unedited versions of an email exchange where the identity of the aggrieved party’s name has been redacted to protect her identity as required by the law. I have highlighted certain key lines from all three emails for clarity.

EMAIL #1: From the aggrieved party to FMP


EMAIL #2: The response of FMP office bearer to the aggrieved party 

EMAIL #3: Aggrieved party’s response to FMP office bearer’s email

What this exchange of emails reveal:

1. There was an incident of sexual harassment in 1994, which the 'victim' confirms in her mail. She confirms that she would not like to rake it up because she did not want to revisit the episode again.This also proves that FMP's claim there was no complaint is blatantly false. FMP received fresh information and it was their prerogative to turn it into a complaint and investigate it.

2. She states that there were two more separate incidents as well. There is now a third recent one involving the same perpetrator, that has been publicly recorded.

3. The FMP's office bearer, not only dismissed her concerns, but also went on to do victim blaming. He said she was indulging in “micro-scrutiny” of her perpetrator.

4. He did not offer to carry out any probe, as stated in the note to Asia Times.

5. Instead, he dismissed the concerns and suggested that sexual harassment is NOT one of the "big challenges to our profession".

6. Clearly, the accounts of sexual harassment and abuse are now clearly evidence to how big a problem it is to journalism in India.

7. Even if FMP had agreed to offer a probe, who could have conducted it? -- FMP did not have a Prevent of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Committee -- by their admission in the public statement issued on October 10, 2018, they are constituting one now.

My personal position on this issue:

1. As a volunteer with FMP, I was legally, ethically and morally bound to bring this to the notice of the office bearers that such a man could not hold a position of power.

2. I sent several text messages to the same office bearer and after seeking permission from the aggrieved party, I put her in touch with one office bearer. The result of their exchange is now clear that the office bearer dismissed her concerns.

3. It is also amply clear from this email exchange that there was no offer to probe the earlier issue, or the subsequent ones mentioned.

4. FMP states in its October 10, 2018 statement on incidents of sexual harassment in the Indian media that it has "zero tolerance" for such cases. In 2017, the office bearer blamed the 'victim' for "micro scrutiny" of the perpetrator and instead dismissed all her concerns by saying: ”whatever floats your boat". Clearly, this is not the "zero tolerance" that FMP now professes.

Saikat Datta
South Asia Editor


Email 1 on October 10, 2018: FMP's Open letter to Editor of Asia Times

Dear Editor,

This is to lodge a complaint with you, on behalf of Foundation for Media Professionals, about blatant violations of journalistic ethics committed by Saikat Datta in his article published in Asia Times on October 7, 2018, headlined “#MeToo movement sweeps into India’s newsrooms”.


These violations are in the form of misleading non-disclosures and downright falsehoods. 

  • While claiming that “an accusation of sexual harassment was brought against one of the senior members of the non-profit Foundation for Media Professionals”, Datta did not disclose that it was he himself who made that accusation in September 2017, shortly after he had ended his term as director of the same Foundation.
  • Though he had first brought up this matter in the Foundation in September 2017, Datta for some reason claimed in his article that the accusation had actually been made “a couple of years ago”. Had that indeed been the case, Datta himself would have been accountable for its handling. For he was the Foundation’s director at the time, in 2016-2017. 
  • Datta alleged that the Foundation had “refused to accept the victim’s complaint” of sexual harassment. In reality, barring his own verbal accusation, the Foundation never received any complaint, written or otherwise, from any woman saying that she had suffered sexual harassment at the hands of any Foundation member. Thus, in the absence of such a complaint from any woman, there was absolutely no basis for Datta’s allegation that the Foundation had “refused to accept the victim’s complaint”.
  • Within days of receiving Datta’s accusation in September 2017, the Foundation, as a measure of abundant caution, contacted the woman journalist mentioned by him. She was however categorical that, following the alleged offender’s apology at the time of the incident way back in 1994, she did not want to revisit it, much less participate in any probe into it. Though it had informed Datta at the time about her reluctance to rake up the matter, he still alleged in his article that “her narrative” had been “dismissed” by the Foundation “as a non-issue”. 


Given its zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, the Foundation challenges Asia Times to produce the sexual harassment complaint referred to by Saikat Datta, along with evidence of that document having been sent to the Foundation and rejected by it. If it is unable to do so, the Foundation demands that Asia Times should withdraw the false allegation and tender an apology on its website. 


Thanks and regards,

Satyashree Gandham, Online Convenor