Cirque du Tehelka

Rohan JoshiA crime under its own roof. My oh my, what is the media to do?

At the first Ashes test in Brisbane this week, a spectator attempted to release a pig onto the field. This proves that tea breaks in Australian cricket are more manly than any other country in the world. Except India, of course, where we often attempt to release an Ishant Sharma onto the field.

The nation wants to know: The media is all over this like a rash, so yes, the Indian media can cover itself

The Aussie spectator smuggled the pig into the stadium disguised as a baby, which raises grave concerns about what Australian babies look like. Now that this story has gotten you comfortable with undignified farces, let’s talk about the Cirque du Tehelka.

Allegations have been made that Tarun Tejpal (the magazine’s founder) may have sexually assaulted a female employee. This has sparked off a trail of events (and terrible prose), which have led us now to the worst managerial response to workplace abuse in history. The only way the folks at Tehelka could have handled this worse is if they’d shot the complainant in the face while she was giving her testimony and then issued a statement saying she was “satisfied” with the steps taken.

We can take heart from the fact that there is much outrage. Less heartening is the fact that while most of it is justified, some of it is as lacking in empathy as the overlords at Tehelka. Jonathan Shainin (outgoing editor of Caravan magazine) tweeted a pertinent question, “Can the Indian media cover itself?” he asks. It’s a fair question to ask of an Indian institution that is about as introspective as a Salman Khan movie. The Radia tapes began what could be the fall of a government. A PR firm shut down. Entire cell phone networks slid into the ocean. But all allegations against the media were met with belligerence, defiance, and in some cases, indifference; the sort that comes from knowing that this too shall pass.

But this time it’s different. The media is all over this like a rash, so yes Mr Shainin, the Indian media can cover itself. But only when it suits them to. The tone of some of the coverage today isn’t one of responsibility. It’s glee. Two days in, we’re already knee-deep in op-ed pieces about Tejpal’s past ethics, anecdotes about extortion, and stories about the time he turned into a winged demon and burned down an orphanage. With the Radia tapes, it suited the media to sit tight (about any journalist’s role) because allegations about even a single person pointed to lapses in journalistic ethics that could be construed as a damning industry-wide practice. In this case though, the media is free to go after Tejpal because even if he is guilty, it doesn’t implicate the rest of the pack. His lapse of judgment, you could argue, is a personal one. It just happened to occur at the workplace.

There’s an entire section of the media that has lost sight of the fact that this is about two real people. One is possibly an aggressor, which by extension makes the other the victim of a terrible crime. And it’s a crime that occurred because the (alleged) aggressor and victim are at opposite ends of several power dynamics; the boss-employee dynamic, the male-female dynamic, and the older-younger dynamic. And the thing all three of these dynamics have in common, especially in India, is that they’re all stacked against her. If the media is to cover itself, we need to know that it is because they’re committed to addressing the unfairness of those dynamics. Don’t cover it because you hate each other’s guts and this is a great opportunity to piss on someone else’s sanctimony without sacrificing any of your own. Besides if you start doing that, what is left for our politicians to do?

Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can contact him on 

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