By Malik Asad
ISLAMABAD: The federal ombudsperson against harassment of women on workplace has directed the managing director of Pakistan Television (PTV) to remove its director news, Athar Farooq Bhutar, till the adjudication of a sexual harassment complaint filed by six leading female newscasters of the state-run television. The harassment case against Mr Bhutar surfaced after he won a five-year-old legal battle in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) where some of his colleagues had challenged his seniority.
After keeping the matter pending for five years, the IHC declared that since the rules of PTV were non-statutory, the court could not take up such a petition. It advised the petitioners to approach the labour court for redressal of their grievances. The newscasters in the complaint accused Mr Bhutar of sexual harassment, humiliation and applying insulting behaviour against them as well other anchorpersons.
Six female newscasters lodge complaint against director news Athar Farooq Bhutar for allegedly harassing them
The ombudsperson on July 1 directed the PTV managing director that “some other person be posted in place of Mr Bhutar so that he may not have excessive powers over others or take any unnecessary benefit of his position. This arrangement should be made immediately under intimation to this office on next date of hearing.” The order added: “Both complainant and opponents be temporarily posted at such places so that they do not have to interact for official purpose during the investigation period.” A senior official of the PTV said after the issuance of the directions by the ombudsperson, PTV managing director Imran Gardezi sent Mr Bhutar on medical leave.
Earlier, on June 8, the anchorpersons had written a letter to the federal minister for information and broadcasting stating: “Several respectable female news anchors were sexually harassed, humiliated and pressured by the sitting director news.” According to the letter, on the complaints of the anchorpersons a couple of years ago, the then MD PTV, Mohammad Malik, had removed Mr Bhutar from the post. However, he was reinstated on the post after a few months. It said male anchors also had protested against the director news for causing mental harassment to them. “The DN used warnings and issued explanation letters to trap anchors,” it alleged.
Following the letter, the information ministry constituted a team comprising senior PTV officials to probe the matter. While the matter was pending with the inquiry team, the anchorpersons filed a complaint with the ombudsperson. When contacted, Mr Bhutar told Dawn that the newscasters were trying to blackmail him, adding he never tried to harass them. He said the producers and news editors had complained against the casual behaviour and non-professionalism of some anchorpersons and he simply tried to put things right and in a professional manner. He said he would defend the allegations at all forums. “I reserve the right to sue those anchorpersons who tried to defame me by filing such a frivolous complaints,” he warned. Sympathisers of Mr Bhutar, on the other hand, said it was not a sexual harassment case but there was an internal rivalry in the background.
They said certain senior officials wanted the removal of Mr Bhutar as they were vying for the slot and encouraging the anchorpersons to pursue the complaint. PTV spokesman Sohail Bokhari, when contacted, said the MD had constituted a team to probe the allegations of sexual harassment and would decide the matter after the inquiry report was submitted to him.