MJ Akbar returns to newsroom, courtesy Zee Media’s WION

The former union minister, who had to quit amid sexual harassment allegations, has been attending editorial meetings even though the company hasn’t announced his hiring yet.

ByTanishka Sodhi
MJ Akbar returns to newsroom, courtesy Zee Media’s WION
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MJ Akbar, the former editor and union minister who was accused of sexual harassment by several women in 2018, has joined WION, an English TV news channel run by Zee Media. Though the company hasn’t announced his hiring yet, Akbar has been attending the channel’s editorial meetings since August 16.

A WION employee told Newslaundry that Subhash Chandra, the chairman of Essel Group, the parent company of Zee Media, introduced Akbar in person to the TV channel’s senior staff in the second week of August.

Then, in an afternoon meeting last week, Sudhir Chaudhary, the editor-in-chief of WION and Zee News, told the staff that Akbar would be attending the morning meetings from the following Monday, according to another journalist at the news channel who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“We were told that he would be joining as vice president. He’s attending the meetings online and isn't coming to office,” the journalist added, referring to Akbar. “Sudhir also told us that he and Subhash would be attending our morning meetings as well. Some people are wary about Akbar joining, especially the junior staff. They aren’t revolting or anything, but there are murmurs.”

A third journalist confirmed this. “People in the office were told Akbar would start attending meetings from the following week. But we haven't received an official email about him joining and what his role is going to be,” he said.

Akbar, who has previously edited the Telegraph, Asian Age and Sunday Guardian, has been an active participant in the editorial meetings he has attended so far, pitching and discussing ideas for reports, the WION employees said. Chandra and Chaudhary, who usually didn’t attend the morning meetings, have also been in attendance this week.

Akbar and Chandra share political affiliation, with both associated with the governing BJP. The former minister released the media baron’s biography in 2016.

Akbar resigned as minister of state for external affairs in 2018, after a number of women who had worked with him, including Priya Ramani, accused him of sexual harassment.

Last week, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to Ramani after Akbar challenged her acquittal in the criminal defamation case he had filed against her for accusing him of harassment.

After resigning as minister, Akbar has been writing frequently for the Open magazine.

When Newslaundry contacted Akbar to inquire about his new role at WION, he said he “wouldn't like to speak about it” and that we should ask Chandra or Chaudhary instead. Chaudhary didn't take our phone calls or respond to text messages. We have emailed both him and Chandra asking for confirmation about Akbar’s hiring and his role in the running of the channel. This report will be updated if we get a response.

Update: Newslaundry has learnt that when Sudhir Chaudhary told the staff that Akbar would be attending the editorial meetings from August 16, he also announced the creation of a board comprising himself, Chandra and Akbar “in an external consultant capacity”. The board would come up with story ideas as well as a plan of action to make WION "bigger and better", a WION staffer said they were told.

On Thursday, Exchange4media reported that Akbar’s designation at WION is "editorial consultant" and that he was "specially roped in for guidance on the geopolitical situation unfolding in the subcontinent, especially in Afghanistan".

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