A senior anchorperson at Dunya TV News is being pressured to keep silent about being sexually harassed by the company’s managing director. After the news director and chief executive officer (CEO) of the company were informed the journalist started to experience serious professional setbacks, and though internal investigation committees were set up (after her resignation), these appear to have been intentionally delayed.
There are concerns that the power of the media house explains the lack of action by civil and political groups, including the National Press Club, in the case so far. The victim currently faces two defamation suits. The case is timely, since a proposal to
increase the punishment for sexual harassment in the workplace is
pending in Parliament.
Ms Maheen Usmani was a senior anchorperson at Dunya TV News, a private television channel in Islamabad. On 11 May 2009 she received two late-night calls from the channel’s managing director, Mr. Yusuf Baig Mirza. He allegedly asked Ms. Usmani to confirm her cell number and made inappropriate comments on her appearance, before offering her certain favours and reimbursements if she were to keep in touch with him on his personal number. According to the victim’s later letter to the Director of Human Resources of Dunya News after the event, Mirza’s speech was ‘suggestive’ and loaded with innuendoes.
Usmani reported the matter to the Director of News (DN), who assured her that it would not happen again and guaranteed an apology from Mirza. However the DN left his job soon afterward and this never happened. The CEO, Mr. Mian Amer Mahmood (former Nazim or Mayor of Lahore city) was also told about the incident, yet did nothing.
Instead Usmani found herself increasingly marginalised in the studio;
Mirza withheld a special report she prepared, removed her from her
lead production role in a popular weekly program and intervened to
prevent the program’s broadcast on several occasions.
Usmani tendered her resignation on 15 June citing the ‘continued
harassment, coercion and highly unethical conduct of the top
management of Dunya News’.
The management quickly formed a Harassment and Gender Equality
Committee to investigate her complaint, yet it was made mostly of
junior staff who reported to Mirza. The Director of Current Affairs (Ms. Nasim Zehra) and head of the committee tried unsuccessfully to get colleagues to sign a petition, barring Usmani from the office for ‘hurt(ing) the sentiments of the Dunya team’. The committee has since made little progress.