Well, the issue may have receded from the public eye, but as I discovered, it's begun raging all over again within journalists' online forums, with all sorts of invective flying around.
Here's a brief rundown of the story since we last covered it. Maheen Usmani resigned on June 16. By June 30, the PFUJ had publicized the case internationally and even the International Federation of Journalists had weighed in. The Dunya management, which had initially chosen to keep mum, eventually agreed through its Director Current Affairs Nasim Zehra,to an inquiry. But Ms. Usmani rejected the committee that had been formed by Dunya as "biased" and called on independent figures to be part of a new committee. Some of the names suggested by her, such as columnist Kamran Shafi, excused themselves preemptorily but in any case Dunya TV never agreed to her demands, which led to Mr. Naz issuing another public statement calling for "sensitivity" from the Dunya TV management. Many journalists took issue with Mr. Naz for seeming one-sided and "having jumped the gun" before an inquiry had established the facts.
Apparently goaded into finally responding, YBM then fired off a letter to the PFUJ which Mr. Naz himself posted with a comment on a forum for journalists (I may have missed it in the press, but I don't remember anyone printing it). This was the letter:
July 4, 2009
Mr. Shamsul Islam Naz
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist,
12- Nazimuddin Road, F-6/1,
Subject: One-sided stance of PFUJ by widely circulating the resignation/complaint filed by Ms. Usmani
This is with reference to the resignation emailed by Ms. Maheen Usmani on the 15th of June, 2009. On the receipt of this email, it was extensively forwarded with one sided comments by the prestigious office of PFUJ to a large number of forums, government officials, private media and other individuals. This document is circulated without making an appropriate inquiry, understanding the whole issue or
listening to the other side manifests the inclined stance of PFUJ regarding this subject.
I, being a part of the media fraternity, hold PFUJ in very high esteem. The body has rendered valuable services for the cause of journalist community and must therefore be respected. But it was disappointing to see that in all sheerness, PFUJ has unfortunately acted in haste without probing into the matter or without knowing the background and understanding of this issue in its entirety. The matter has been blown up, politicized and publicized by distorting and twisting the facts; only to scandalize certain entities.
I was never contacted or consulted by the PFUJ on the matter before issuing this letter. I very profoundly wish that PFUJ would have at least for once made an initial inquiry before hurriedly jumping on to a predisposed conclusion generating a one sided email. I am convinced that it was unintentional oversight on part of PFUJ and was only done in a spur of the moment without rationally analyzing a highly emotional, verbose and angled email of resignation by Ms. Maheen Usmani. It is formidable for the whole media fraternity how this whole farce has been developed on the motives by an individual or a group of people hiding behind this malicious campaign.
I am sure that PFUJ in order to maintain their impartiality and credibility would not like to take any sides without knowing the facts of the case. I therefore, hereby request the prestigious office of PFUJ, keeping in view what the justice & fairness demand, that no verdict should be given without impartially taking into consideration the complete case, gathering undistorted facts and knowing the other side of the story. I therefore request a rejoinder to be issued (to same people to whom the previous email was sent) as a corrigendum by your office that PFUJ regrets to circulate this email."
I look forward to hear from you on this matter.
Yousaf Baig Mirza, Managing Director, Dunya Television Network
And Mr. Naz's comment to go with his posting - which actually was a sort of a climbdown from his own earlier fire and brimstone:
From Shamsul Islam Naz
July 9, 2009 7:22 pm
Without prejudice the PFUJ is of the view that it had not so far “given any verdict” about the “allegations of Ms Maheen Usmani”. But according to the words of Mr. YBM “justice & fairness demand, that no verdict should be given without impartiality taking into consideration the complete case, gathering undistorted facts and knowing the other side of the story”. The same contention was raised by Ms. Nasim Zehra “Dunya News takes such allegations seriously and hence an Inquiry Committee was immediately initiated.”
With giving any opinion or passing any judgment we are looking forward of out come of this incident by an “Inquiry Committee”, comprising of independent persons and known for their integrity, honesty, and credibility. In the meantime, I urge upon colleagues not to jump in the debate and pass any “verdict” in “favour or, or against” “any one”.
Shamsul Islam Naz
Secretary General PAKISTAN FEDERAL UNION OF JOURNALISTS
The matter then seemed to have cooled down for a couple of weeks, until once again some journalists began to question (quite rightly) what was going on with the inquiry. This soon degenerated into another round of invective-ridden emails that among other things referred to YBM as a "glorified pimp", claimed many more women would like to come out into the open against him, and one even declared there were "hundreds of God-fearing people and journalists, like myself, who would love to beat the hell out of YBM if he ever crosses their path". Some others implied Ms. Usmani was doing all this for cheap publicity.
So, this sets the stage for the fight to degenerate further, believe it or not, into one between two women journalists - Ms. Usmani on the one hand and Nasim Zehra on the other. Everyone else is weighing in on one side or the other, and it's not pleasant disagreement I can tell you that. Reproduced below are the exact emails from Ms. Zehra and Ms. Usmani, for readers to judge for themselves. Keep in mind I am not reproducing the diatribes from the supporters on either side.
But before anyone climbs down my throat, let me make one thing extremely clear. I DO think sexual harrassment is a very serious issue and that its perpetrators should be taken severely to task. However, I do think there is also ample opportunity for perceptions sometimes to be misplaced, for words to be misunderstood and despite my antipathy towards YBM (who I do personally think is a sleazebag), I also feel no one should be convicted without a fair inquiry and hearing.
Having added my explanation for not sitting in judgement, here goes (as is):
From Nasim Zehra
August 23, 2009 7:10 pm
I have followed the resurfacing of this discussion. While all of us on this list are against gender harassment at any scale or in any form, the opening up of a settled matter serves no purpose. Many on this list maybe aware that the inquiry conducted within Dunya News and also externally came to the conclusion that the allegation made regarding sexual harassment was baseless.
May I please suggest that the matter of sexual harassment is a serious issue and one which must raised with utmost responsibility either at this or at other Forums.
From: Maheen Usmani
August 25, 2009 5:18 pm
Is Naseem Zehra the mouthpiece of YBM and Mian Amer?
This is not the first time that Naseem Zehra has surfaced on this site regarding the harassment I had to face at Dunya News. I chose to resign rather than respond to the nauseating overtures made by the MD, Yousuf Beg Mirza. In doing so, I did not ask for anything except an apology from the MD for abusing his position and authority.
Since my resignation, I have been subjected to a continuous hostile campaign of defamation. All kinds of vile and repulsive propoganda has been unleashed at me just because I have chosen not to compromise, and give in to unprofessional and unethical conduct which unfortunately seems to be the norm in the electronic media. I have been very committed to my work, but I would always choose my integrity and principles over fame and success if I had to pay such a heavy price for it. Perhaps the 'gentleman' in question has found it hard to deal with a woman who has no qualms about stating the truth. Despite all the filth that has been heaped on my head, I had consciously chosen not to stoop to the level of the management at Dunya News, with whom I have had the misfortune of working with. However, the latest salvo from Ms. Naseem Zehra has made it imperative for me to break my silence, because such people need to be stopped in their tracks without any further ado.
Who is Naseem Zehra? A struggling programme host who is employed by Dunya News? What does she have to do with this case of harassment? The eagerness she has displayed in coming to the aid of the Dunya management and being their mouthpiece time and again is indeed amusing, and greatly at variance with her carefully cultivated image of espousing the cause of the emancipation of women and the oppressed. In her alacrity to jump to the defence of the Dunya management yet again, she has chosen to be economical with the truth. She says, "The opening up of a settled matter serves no purpose. Many on this list may be aware that the inquiry conducted within Dunya News and also externally came to the conclusion that the allegation made regarding sexual harassment was baseless." The truth of the matter is that the Dunya News' internal inquiry was merely a face saving exercise which is why it comprised of junior employees of such departments as IT and Operations from Lahore. My repeated requests to have impartial and independent minded people in the committee, which was supported by the International Federation of Journalists, was not heeded to by Dunya News. Naturally, the internal 'inquiry' did not come to any conclusion and sank without a trace. As far as the external inquiry is concerned, the National Press Club has been unable to give a verdict because Yousuf Beg Mirza appears reluctant to appear before them, for reasons best known to him. Since neither of the two enquiries has given a verdict so far, how can Naseem Zehra declare pompously that the allegations are 'baseless' or that the matter is 'settled?'
Why has Naseem Zehra conveniently forgotten to mention that initially she was the Convenor of the internal inquiry set up by Dunya News? She had the audacity to write a letter after I resigned, asking for a ban on my entry into the Islamabad office of Dunya News for the purpose of the enquiry. Ms Zehra asked all the employees to sign this letter, because I had "hurt the sentiments of the Dunya team" by levelling these alleagations against their paragon of virtue, YBM. The drivers, guards, peons, electricians et al were forced to sign the letter by the administration, and then a Current Affairs producer, working under Naseem Zehra, took it into the newsroom where the first person to happily affix his signature was none other than our honourable Bureau Chief, Mr. Rao Khalid. However, Ms Zehra's plans were thwarted when many of my former colleagues refused to sign the letter and started questioning why my entry should be banned in office. On seeing the dissent and uncompromising mood of the reporters, the letter and it's bearer beat a hasty retreat. After this unsavoury incident which showed the real face of Naseem Zehra and the Dunya management, I wrote a letter to the HR, Dunya News, protesting at this malicious and underhanded action of Naseem Zehra's and asked that how could she be the Convenor of this inquiry when she was trying her best to pressurise and subdue me? Eventually, Ms Zehra had to withdraw from the committee.
While the enquiry was being conducted, Naseem Zehra wrote a letter to the PFUJ stating that this case of harassment was based "on only one phone call". May I request her to kindly add to her reservoir of knowledge by googling the term 'sexual harassment' to know exactly what it means. I don't know how many phone calls from unsavoury characters it takes for Naseem Zehra to cry wolf, but for me one was quite enough, thank you very much. Hearing the MD offering me financial reimbursements and asking me to go to another room "takay aap mujh say khul kay baat kar sakain.." made me furious. Why should any female journalist take this kind of crap, just because the man happens to be in a senior position?
I am aware that many female journalists choose to remain silent in the face of sexual harassment, because they have little choice in the matter which has emboldened such unsavoury characters to spread their wings in the media. I hope that their mouthpieces and agents realise that the time has come to bring about a positive change in our field, and to eradicate or minimise the role of such people who have reached their exalted positions by toadying up to those in power and currying favours.
From: Nasim Zehra
August 26, 2009 9:43 am
Ms Maheen's posting warrants a response from me.
I am a Director Current Affairs in the organisation and therefore feel responsible for what happens in the organization and to the organization. I am also responsible for the morale of my team and if such allegations are made on a continuous basis it is my responsibility to respond.
In the organization I personally ensured that any allegation of sexual harassment is taken seriously. For example when Ms. Maheen raised the issue of sexual harassment against an employee with the then Director News and he raised it with me I immediately inquired into the matter and took action. An internal inquiry was conducted. That gentleman was removed.
Subsequently when Ms. Maheen raised the issue regarding the MD an internal inquiry was conducted. According to the findings of the Inquiry there was no basis to the allegation of sexual harassment. Externally too media organizations looked into the matter but found no evidence of sexual harassment and therefore no action was recommended.
Ms. Maheen is correct in stating that initially I was the Convenor of the Inquiry Committee that was set up in terms of Company rules. We started the proceedings and requested Ms. Maheen to appear before the Committee which was to meet at Dunya Office in Islamabad. Ms. Maheen chose not to participate and instead objected to the constitution of the Committee. One of her objections rested on the false pretext that I had authored a letter demanding ban on her entry to Dunya Office in Islamabad. She was informed that the copy of the letter, forwarded by her to the Inquiry Committee, was addressed to me and could not have for that reason alone be authored by me. She chose to disregard the fact and continued to falsely assert that I advocated the ban on her entry to Dunya Office in Islamabad.
The Inquiry Committee examined the letter demanding that Ms.Maheen be banned from coming to the Dunya Office since she had insulted the organization by levelling allegations against the MD and requested a separate inquiry into who wrote the said letter. It was discovered that the letter was written and circulated by an infotainment producer not working under me. This unfair and baseless demand by the employee was obviously rejected.
As for the Inquiry Committee that looked into the allegations of sexual harassment levelled by Ms. Maheen, I made sure that the proceedings were held at Islamabad office so that Ms. Maheen could attend and assist the Committee in the inquiry. Ms. Maheen was requested to participate but she chose to not attend. When Ms. Maheen chose to state in a web posting that the letter addressed to me was in fact written by me I clarified the matter. However, I also chose to withdraw from the Inquiry Committee voluntarily as Ms. Maheen had chosen to falsely accuse me of authoring a letter advocating ban on her entry to the Islamabad office.
Ms. Maheen has raised the issue of the letter again and repeated her baseless allegation that I wrote the letter. I have decided to institute action before an appropriate forum as for reasons best known to her alone, Ms. Maheen appears determined to unreasonably and falsely claim that I authored a letter to myself.
From Maheen Usmani
August 26, 2009 4:33 am
The lady doth protest too much
It only took a few hours for Nasim Zehra to do the bidding of her shady employers at Dunya News. My respect for the lady has multiplied manifold. Quite an embodiment of the adage "more loyal than the king."
Despite being a self declared champion of the truth, Ms. Zehra does not seem averse to doctoring stories left, right and centre. No wonder her show's ratings are perpetually plunging. There is something known as belabouring the point, and her incessant and increasingly desperate attempts to shore up support for her wayward boss are beginning to remind one of Chinese water torture.. drip, drip, drip ad nauseum.
Nasim Zehra mentions the sacking of an employee for sexual harassment. As usual, she has chosen to omit facts. The elderly employee belonged to a group which was opposed to YBM since Beg's days in PTV. Nasim Zehra claims that she inquired into the matter and "took action". Well, maybe her understanding of this verb is faulty, because the employee stayed at Dunya. It was only later that he was fired on some other charges when he was caught perusing porno websites while clutching a tasbeeh.
Then there is the curious case of the letter written by Nasim Zehra, asking for my ban in Dunya office. Despite "being responsible for what happens in the organisation and to the organisation", it appears that she was blissfully unaware of the existence of this vicious letter, until I brought it to the notice of the Dunya HR. In that case, she has no business being Director, Current Affairs, if she is so divorced from reality. If she did not write the letter as she claims, then why did the Admin Officer, Mr. Karam and producer, Mohammed Yasser, who works under her, take it into the Newsroom and insist that the reporters sign it immediately? And even if we buy her far fetched notion of an anonymous "infotainment producer" writing the letter and putting her name instead of his on the letter, why was no "action" taken against such unethical and unprofessional conduct? What was the name of the producer? Why was the producer not shown the door by the moral brigade headed by the formidable Nasim Zehra?
The reality is that until June 15 when I left there was no infotainment producer in Islamabad office. Again, sadly, Ms Zehra is being economical with the truth.
Where was Nasim Zehra's touching "concern for the morale of my team" and much vaunted espousal of womens' rights when a fellow female journalist's reputation was being torn to shreds by the baying pack of wolves unleashed by the management of Dunya News on the internet? When these dirty and reprehensible tactics did not work, these people went to the extent of mailing my husband obnoxious emails and then calling him in office. Why did Ms. Zehra choose to look the other way when the MD, Yousuf Beg Mirza, talked about me in a highly negative and malicious manner to people whom he asked to cover up this issue, and not support me in any way whatsoever? I realise that truth is not a commodity Yousuf Beg Mirza sets much store by, but his far fetched and egoistical stories about me really smack of dementia. Now that Dunya's management is feeling the heat, they have asked a few acquaintances to intervene and ask me to put a lid on this matter so they can sweep it under the carpet. Since leopards don't change their spots, these gentlemen continue to malign me while saying that this incident may affect their families. And what of my family, pray? Are they made of stone to stomach your widely disseminated crap? And before Nasim Zehra cudgels her scholarly brain to come up with an appropriate response, let me say that I have witnesses to these incidents who will come forward at an appropriate time and at the right forum.
As far as the internal and external inquiries are concerned, it looks like Nasim Zehra is living in cuckoo land because she keeps insisting that the verdicts revealed that there was "no basis to the allegations of sexual harassment." Time for you to take off those rose tinted spectacles, Madam. Neither of the two inquiries have reached any verdict yet. The internal inquiry comprised of the lackeys of the Dunya Lahore office which was an eyewash, but even they were unable to exonerate their honourable MD and acquit him. The enquiry currently underway at the National Press Club has been hampered by the absence of Mr Yousuf Beg Mirza who cannot spare time to appear before the tribunal, despite being a regular visitor to Islamabad.
Finally, Ms. Nasim Zehra, I have news for your crass MD of Dunya, Mr. Yousuf Beg Mirza, which I'm sure you'll be good enough to pass on. This time he picked on the wrong female journalist. I don't take nonsense from anyone. I am not one of the many bimbos he has exploited to mutual benefit many, many times in the past. I expect an apology from him, because no amount of his ham handed tactics and pressurising techniques are going to work. There should be a code of conduct established and implemented in letter and spirit in all media houses, and policy of zero tolerance in place so that no woman has to endure harassment, or ridicule and defamation on this scale if she chooses to resign and walk out rather than work with such unappetising characters.Maheen Usmani
I'm sure there'll be more coming. Will keep you updated.