Sunday Guardian editor Joyeeta Basu appears as a witness for former minister M.J. Akbar in his defamation suit, calls him a ‘perfect professional’.
New Delhi: In the third hearing of the defamation suit filed by M.J. Akbar, former union minister, veteran journalist and now an alleged sexual predator, the only standing vanguard was Joyeeta Basu, the editor of Sunday Guardian and Akbar’s former colleague of 15 years.
“He has always been a tough taskmaster, a thorough professional and a brilliant teacher,” Basu said of Akbar, and reiterated that description several times in her statement in the Patiala House Courts Monday, with the help of lawyer Geeta Luthra, who is representing Akbar.
Since so many people are talking, hear my story too: @mjakbar has been one of the best bosses I have worked with. Learnt everything I know about newspapers from him. A tough taskmaster and a thorough professional. Never felt uncomfortable. NEVER. @PMOIndia @narendramodi
— Joyeeta Basu (@eeta) October 9, 2018
Basu, who has been in journalism since 1994, met Akbar in November 1998 after she applied for a job at The Asian Age newspaper, where Akbar was the editor-in-chief, she told the court. She headed the opinion section in the news daily and worked directly under Akbar, after which she moved to the weekly Sunday Guardian, also founded by Akbar.
Appearing confident in the witness box, Basu dictated her testimony with a conscious choice of words, especially when it came to defining Akbar’s characteristic. Basu’s words painted Akbar as the “perfect professional” who never paid attention to anything but work, and was strict in his dealings.
When asked about her time working with Akbar, she said: “I always held him in high regard. He has been perfectly professional in his dealings with me.”
She further stressed, “I consider him a brilliant journalist, a scholarly writer, a thorough gentleman with an impeccable reputation in my eyes and in the eyes of the people.”
Basu then requested the court master noting down the dictation to add the word “always” before “consider”, leaving no doubt that her confidence in Akbar never budged.
The trope of Akbar being a perfect professional and a tough taskmaster was repeated and noted down at least thrice in Basu’s statement.
She vouched, “I have never heard anything untoward him from the staff of the organisation we have worked together in.”
Basu said it was “important to be noted” that Akbar usually did not even interact with his juniors as much, such was the degree of his professionalism.
“Since I was heading (editorial) section (at The Asian Age), I would interact with people and he would interact only with me,” she said.
Basu recalled the day she read journalist Priya Ramani’s tweet from last month, accusing Akbar of sexual harassment, which came as a shock to her. She said that it made friends and colleagues around her question his character, “…His reputation had been permanently damaged as far as they were concerned”.
— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) October 8, 2018
Although there was a debate whether to use the word “damage” or “destroyed” because according to Basu “damage” wasn’t strong enough.
That’s when Luthra jokingly remarked “editors…”
‘Best boss I worked with’
Basu explained what went on in her mind after reading the tweets accusing Akbar of sexual harassment.
“I reasoned with myself and thought whether it was reasonable, given my experience, that I should believe the aspersions cast on him, which I had believed momentarily on 8 October…”
This is when Luthra took over the statement and completed Basu’s sentence saying, “…but which on introspection, I realised were completely misplaced and unfounded as my experience over the past two decades had shown him to be a perfect gentleman and his behavior had been exemplary”.
The court master noted this down as the part of Basu’s statement. Basu then took over again and said, “I felt the need to defend him and on 9 October I tweeted that he was the best boss that I had worked with.”
She concluded saying that “I may have overcome my doubts…” but asked the court master to scratch out “may” from the sentence, repeating firmly, “I have overcome my doubts, but I know from the number of questions raised by people, personally that his reputation has been damaged and destroyed irreparably.”
“After reading these tweets by Ms Priya Ramani, I believe that this vilification was conducted, and tweets published intentionally with the purpose to harm Mr Akbar’s good reputation and Goodwill.”
The court has now summoned Habibur Rehman — one of the six witnesses from Akbar’s side — to testify on 7 December, the next scheduled hearing.
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