The odd case of India TV and Tanu Sharma

BY ARUNODAY MAJUMDER| IN Media Business | 11/07/2014
Unanswered questions swirl around the former India TV anchor's allegations of harassment at work which sections of the media have chosen not to explore,
says ARUNODAY MAJUMDER. PIX: Notice sent to Newslaundry

A stoic silence by news channels, careful summaries by news dailies and enthusiastic coverage by news websites marked the last fortnight with regard to a piece of news that exploded in the heart of mainstream media. The otherwise sensation loving news channels pulled the wool over their five senses – citing the ‘Doctrine of Self-Regulation’ – when Tanu Sharma, former anchor with India TV, claimed to have attempted suicide driven by what she has alleged to be workplace harassment of a mental and sexual nature. (IndiaTV has consistently denied these allegations and termed them mischevious and malicious.)

News websites used all five senses and even banked on the sixth which has now led to a legal exchange between news organizations. In the midst of indifference, outrage and hesitation, the information in the public domain is unclear. Six basic questions remain unanswered:

First, the sequence of events as reported for Sunday, June 22, is not seamless. In the morning, Tanu Sharma indicated on Facebook that she would commit suicide due to workplace harassment. Before noon, she arrived at the gate of India TV office in Noida and demanded to meet officials. While the security guards were busy handling her demand, Sharma claimed to have attempted suicide at that very moment and place by consuming a toxic substance. India TV officials admitted her to Kailash Hospital where doctors washed out her stomach.

So far, so clear. But the filing of two FIRs on the same day needs to be accounted for. Sharma filed an FIR against her seniors, a fact which has been reported. But an anti-defamation legal notice from India TV claims that the news organization had already filed an FIR against her. (The legal notice has been sent to Sharma and to Manisha Pande who reported the story on Newslaundry). If that is so, why does that FIR not figure in news reports? Also, when did Sharma file an FIR and when did India TV file its FIR? The important point here is who initiated criminal charges and who followed?

Second, it has been reported that Sharma claimed to have attempted suicide by consuming rat poison, a claim which the India TV legal notice has denied by stating that no toxic substance was found after her stomach was washed at Kailash Hospital. But do the medical reports of a private hospital conclusively establish the presence or absence of toxins in a body in a criminal case? If not, has any sample been collected by the police and sent to an authorized laboratory for examination? So far, there has been no light on that.

Third, it has been reported that Sharma on several occasions tried to contact seniors further up in the organizational hierarchy to complain about a hostile atmosphere at work. India TV has denied this by stating that there is no electronic record of the fact that Sharma ever tried to contact them. But is there a human record, namely, an attempt by her to speak to senior colleagues in person or on the telephone? Did she ever discuss her alleged problems with colleagues, friends, relatives or family? In other words, did Sharma convey such feelings in the past or are the events between June 19 and June 22 the only pieces of information available to form an opinion about the time of their origin?

Fourth, India TV’s legal notice has stated that Sharma was an underperformer and this claim is supported by the mention of two emails sent to Sharma to warn her about inappropriate laughter on-air and for being found missing in the middle of a live news bulletin. Was Sharma asked about the receipt of these emails? Did she confirm receiving them? The question that arises is why India TV has not thought it appropriate to reveal the content of the emails which were purportedly sent to Sharma?

Fifth, on June 19, Sharma is reported to have had an argument over her performance with a senior colleague. India TV’s legal notice has claimed that after this incident, she had told a hair stylist in the office that she would teach the senior a lesson. If this is indeed the case, why does India TV not air an interview with the hair stylist on what Sharma said? Why is the version of the hair stylist, which seems important, not mentioned in the news reports? In fact, we do not even know if the hair stylist was contacted for her account of what happened and what was said in the make-up room. Or could it be that she was contacted but refused to speak? Again, we do not know.  

Even more intriguing, according to the India TV legal notice, is that the argument in the make-up room took place in the presence of two other women anchors and a make-up artist. Were they contacted for their versions of what happened? If so, did they also refuse to speak?

Sixth, the same evening, Sharma is reported to have sent an SMS to the head of her department stating that she had resigned. The head is then said to have forwarded the SMS to the HR Department which promptly accepted via an email to Sharma. The legal notice of India TV gives the same version. But what were the exact words in the SMS? And can such an SMS sent to a department head, without any independent communication to the HR Department, lead to acceptance of a resignation?

These are the questions that hang in the air. Unless news channels and newspapers learn to be self-critical with regard to their ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ motto, it may become difficult for news websites to answer any of these questions.

Moreover, is the flexing of its legal muscles by India TV against what it calls defamatory reportage the only way to address the issue? Surely reporting by the media on an attempted suicide or a fake attempt at suicide, whatever the case may turn out to be, is in the public interest?

Arunoday Majumder is a Junior Research Fellow at the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics and an independent media practitioner. He has worked previously with two prominent English news television stations. He can be reached at

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