At a time when Kerala is battling increasing incidents of sexual harassment against women, an alleged incident of misconduct with a woman against the transport minister, AK Saseendran has caused him to step down. A newly launched Malayalam news channel, Mangalam aired an audio clip on Sunday, of a woman’s conversation with the minister, which had the minister speaking in a sexually explicit way.
To avoid embarrassment to his party and the LDF Government and to uphold political morality, the 71-year old resigned from his post.
The woman in clip had apparently contacted the minister for a favour when he allegedly took note of her phone number and began harassing her with calls and talking sexually to her. But given that the clip contains only the minister’s voice, the authenticity of the clip could be questioned.
The minister at the press conference announcing his resignation had said that he doesn’t remember doing anything of the sort and believes that he isn’t in the wrong. He has also requested the CM, Pinarayi Vijayan to conduct a thorough probe into the incident. An official complaint hasn’t been filed by the woman against the minister so far.
The skewed nature of incidents makes it look like a conspiracy against this five-time legislator who started his career with the Congress. The minister maintained that the CM hadn’t asked for his resignation. It has to be however noted that this incident has come up at a time when the LDF and the United Democratic Front (UDF) are locked in an electoral battle for Malappuram parliament seat. The CM too, rather than dismissing his cabinet member, has declared that a final decision will be taken after all the facts are examined carefully.
“A person holding a public position like a minister should be cautious of his conduct. It is another matter altogether if it is an ordinary person. But, someone like him should have been careful of his acts, whether or not the conversation was consensual,” says public commentator and lawyer, Jayasankar.
Founder of Asianet and Chairman of Asian College of Journalism, had shared an excellent viewpoint on the whole incident. He has questioned why our morally skewed society points fingers only at men and if the audio clipping has really been recorded by a woman or a government agent wishing to defame the minister and that such acts to deliberately affect the dignity of a public or a private person should be thoroughly investigated. He also termed the act by the news channel to be the one of misuse of media power bordering towards news pornography.
According to BRP Bhaskar, a noted, senior journalist, “it can be questioned how the audio clipping reached the channel on the day it got launched. Conduct of such a manner questions professional morality of the media which needs to be strengthened. The content shared by the channel seems contrived and not genuine. It doesn’t even come across as a sting operation.”
According to another seasoned journalist and public interpreter, VS Syamlal, “It is because of acts like these by other media that honest journalists are often questioned of their intentions when they request for interviews with political leaders and ministers.” According to him, good and honest journalists do not resort to means like these. “Moreover, the recording seems fake as only the minister is heard to be speaking,” he adds.
Former member of parliament, Sebastian Paul says, “The whole recording is illegitimate because methods like phone tapping and concealed cameras aren’t primarily acceptable. Even then, the means in certain cases can be justified, if the conclusion brings out a larger picture. But in this case, the consequence was only defamation of the minister. This sort of journalism cannot be approved as there isn’t even a formal complaint by the woman. It is the prof of misuse of power and is dubious journalism.”
Supreme Court Lawyer, Renjith Marar says, “It isn’t yet clear whether the clipping was given by another party or by the woman herself. In this case, it violates the minister’s privacy and integrity. The minister in this case could have denied that the conversation isn’t his and not resigned without the facts were verified. And if the authenticity of recording cannot be proved, then the news channel’s broadcasting rights should be withdrawn. Right now, however, the minister has the right to request the clipping to be taken down from social media and request to be forgotten.”
Whether for TRPs or increased circulation, any media cannot justify fabrication of stories. Responsible journalism is essential to keep a close watch on the happenings in a State and the integrity of the same needs to be maintained for the press to be recognised as a respected fourth pillar of the State.
Image courtesy: Hindustan Times