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The alarming L'affaire Tejpal

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The media industry as well as the common man was shocked yesterday when Tehelka magazine editor Tarun Tejpal reportedly admitted ‘misconduct’ against a woman journalist and offered to step aside from the post, and the office, for six months as a penance. The journo in question had alleged that Tejpal sexually assaulted her at an event organised by the magazine in Goa earlier this month.

So what’s all the fuss about? We live in times when adults having consensual sex has become quite common at workplaces. From Fatal Attraction to Inkaar, the subject has been captured on celluloid and written about a zillion times. There’s a term coined for it as well, ‘office spouse.' We hear about such relationships every other day; be it in classrooms or boardrooms.

And the media, much as it may like to pretend otherwise, isn’t too far behind in these matters. Prominent journalists have had consensual relationships which are a known fact among the fraternity but no one really talks about them, openly, at least.

One wouldn’t be wrong if he/she calls media as a cesspool. Just that those who are in the business of washing other people’s dirty linen in public, won’t wash theirs in full public view. That would be just so wrong!

One wouldn’t be wrong if he/she calls media as a cesspool. Just that those who are in the business of washing other people’s dirty linen in public, won’t wash theirs in full public view. That would be just so wrong!

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Like Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhary side-stepped a news reporter’s query saying, “This is an internal matter”. Wouldn’t others of her ilk have said the same thing if they were in such a mess?

There are many Tejpals striding the passages in media organisations around India. And more and more women are entering the media industry - whether in television news or general entertainment channels or newspapers - especially at the junior level. It is they who become an easy target for the ones sitting in their cozy cabins. Some of the younger lot might “cooperate” to get a helping hand in their careers while others who become victims might choose to keep mum so as to not harm their progress.

It takes a lot of courage for one to step-up and take on the boss. The young Tehelka journalist did so and needs to be patted on her back for not letting the possible repercussions hold her back. But how many of them will do so? That is the worrying part.

But there is a saving grace. Those in senior positions or positions of power should remember: Everyone is under scrutiny and no one — no matter how powerful — can escape from one’s actions in the liberalised social media environment of today. This is borne out by l'affaire Tejpal which has once again brought the much celebrated journalist in focus. But unlike earlier times when he was in the limelight unearthing scandals, this time, he is the scandal. The once media darling is now being crucified by one and all as a beast, and rightly so. Indeed, Tejpal and Tehelka, which made headlines with umpteen sting operations, finds itself being stung by scandal and that too rather badly.

For a magazine known to take a stance, no matter what the consequences, it has come under severe criticism for taking a rather serious issue lightly. "He stepped down. It was not something she'd asked for. It was over and above that”, says Chaudhary matter-of-factly.

Not only is the world shocked to know that Tejpal sexually harassed a junior colleague, who happens to be his daughter’s close friend, his decision to step aside from the editorship of the magazine and from the Tehelka office for six months as ‘atonement’ for what he describes as ‘a bad lapse of judgement, an awful misreading of the situation...’ has been labelled ‘inappropriate and grossly insufficient’ by many.

Those in senior positions or positions of power should remember: Everyone is under scrutiny and no one — no matter how powerful — can escape from one’s actions in the liberalised social media environment of today. This is borne out by l'affaire Tejpal which has once again brought the much celebrated journalist in focus.

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Apparently, Tejpal, in his letter to Chaudhary, has said he repents his ‘drunken banter’ and offered to step aside from his post and the office for six months to ‘atone for his misconduct’. But does that absolve him from all responsibility? Maybe he hopes his close connections with the Congress president will help him in return of all the snooping he has done on the rival party.

And what do we say to Chaudhary, otherwise known to be at the forefront of all women’s causes, who has in this instance chosen to support Tejpal, requesting Tehelka employees to ‘stand by the institution in this hard time.'

Institution yes... but one whose future hangs in the balance. Will it outlast Tejpal when he is tried and thrown into jail as is being demanded by many on Twitter and on social media? This is probably what was playing in the mind of the victim, which is why she is still considering constitution of a committee by the magazine to go into the issue and take action. Remember, Tejpal allegedly forced himself on the girl in an elevator in a five star hotel more than 10 days ago. With a slew of publications downing shutters, and television channels shedding staff, another magazine folding up will not be good news for the industry, that too because of one man...

While one can’t foresee the future, a niggling question remains: “What was Tejpal thinking (or smoking or guzzling) when a man of his stature did what he calls ‘a bad lapse of judgement’?”

Maybe he doesn’t believe in practicing what he preaches.

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