Akbar should step down for sake of fair probe: Journalists

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New Delhi : Expressing "deep disappointment" at Union Minister M.J. Akbar's threat of legal action against complainants alleging sexual harassment at his hands, journalist bodies on Monday said the Minister must step down for the sake of an impartial probe into the matter.

"In the interests of a fair probe, moral and public propriety, it would only be appropriate that the Minister steps down from his post till such time as the inquiry is completed," the Press Club of India, Indian Women Press Corps, South Asian Women in Media and the Press Association said in a joint statement on Monday. "We are disappointed that Akbar did not choose to take this step (resigning) instead of threatening the complainants with legal action," it added. The joint statement said the need for an impartial probe into all the complaints "without fear or intimidation to the complainants" acquires particular significance if the accused was an "influential Minister" in the government. "Akbar is a senior functionary of the government and his response should reflect the responsibility that is thus bestowed on him," it said. The journalist organisations pointed out that sexual harassment at workplace was a "worrisome reality" and that media organisations and managements had been unable to put the systems in place to address this problem. "Sexual harassment at the workplace is a pervasive phenomenon. It has continued with impunity despite the enactment of a tough law to prevent, prohibit and redress it. The inability of women to speak out about such harassment needs serious introspection and redress. "We hope that employers in media organisations and the government will look into this with the seriousness it deserves and not treat the incidents as motivated complaints," the statement read. More than half a dozen women journalists have accused Akbar, now Minister of State for External Affairs, of sexually harassing them.