Women and Media – the journey, challenges and emerging spaces

Celebrating the International Women’s Day centenary, the Network of Women in Media, Bangalore (NWMB), Network of Women in Media, India‘s (NWMI) local chapter and the Bangalore Press Club, co-hosted a lively and thoughtful exchange on the Changing Role of Women in Media for nearly thirty media professionals, social activists, freelance writers and students on 13th March 2010 from 3.00-5.30 pm.

Tanushree Gangopadhyay, (veteran journalist previously at Deccan Herald, Indian Express and other national publications) and Anita Cheria (independent writer on human rights issues) NWMB’s present joint coordinators, welcomed the participants and moderated the discussion respectively. NDTV anchor Vasanti Hariprakash, (formerly with Indian Express, All India Radio and Radio City in a fifteen year career) initiated a friendly, informal session introduced the key speakers (including two rushing to their offices).

The Indian Information Service’s first woman and Doordarshan’s first lady programme officer, Meena Mysore, News Editor at Doordarshan Bangalore, shared her personal experiences as a woman within a male oriented environment. Enjoying her 19 years in field publicity despite isolation and discrimination as the only lady she faced challenges of maintaining a work life balance. Sheer determination and ambition helped her career grow passing the UPSC exam and learn English after beginning as a clerk. Importantly, she always considered herself an officer rather than just another woman coping well with overtime work and availing minimal entitled leave due to staff shortage.

Vasanti expressed that media women are rarely decision makers even with increased presence from the 1990’s. Although she doesn’t often see media from a gender perspective, she believes that women radio programmes hosts can try introducing a feminine element as radio is more personalized. According to her, the numerous FM radio stations have immense potential for social differentiation but Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) ratings that decide programme sustainability may constrain them. "Anyone planning to offer meaningful content should frame relevant policies", Vasanti added. She described how community radio empowers barely literate Dalit women (like the two Narsammas) who run Andhra Pradesh’s Sangam radio station with minimal infrastructure but reach 60 villages focussing on local issues and airing Telugu folk music. And Nepal’s Doka radio (with its transmitters in baskets that hill women carry) sang news about the monarch’s wrongdoings during reign and interesting programmes like Radio City’s Karma Yogi evoked good listener response.

Independent film maker Priyanjana Dutta, (former NDTV and CNN-IBN news anchor and thirteen year broadcast media person) is happy at the fair number of women in all visual media departments except transmission where women are entering now. Disappointed that "It’s no longer ‘tele’vision as crime, cricket and controversy now dominate news" she  shockingly learned that North Eastern India is unimportant owing to its 7% TRP even during a daily twelve hour long bandh. She advises newcomers in visual media to concentrate on field research, connecting with people and selling their stories effectively rather than vying for the anchor’s position.

Maintaining the participative nature of the event, Anita invited others to convey their views. Sheela Ramanathan, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Network (http://www.hrln.org/hrln) shared how her 2 year old talk on women’s rights on Indira Gandhi Gyan Vahini, brought good response particularly after repeated broadcasts. While Reshma, a(n) NWMB member has observed radio being a transition point between print and TV journalism, Shangon Dasgupta cited listeners absorbing radio programmes during travel. She and Vasanti opined that government owned media allows staff freedom in content development and the private ones invested in infrastructure and staff support but advertising and TRP/RAM controlled them.

Long time women’s activist Asha Ramesh advocated promoting alternative communication channels lamenting that exclusive women’s pages in many mainstream newspapers are diminishing. From among the group of persons that voiced concerns about women’s portrayl in the yesteryear film music programme Chitrahaar (forcing Indira Gandhi to set up the P.C. Joshi inquiry commission) she is a trained journalist who never pursued the profession. Although women currently report on various subjects, she has seen women’s perspectives denied space. Briefing us on her and her associates’ work on the Women’s Reservation Bill (WRB) and how we can contribute to the debate, she added, "We need to use all platforms and forums to express views on this legislation and create an impact countrywide".

Gayatri Devi, Assistant Editor, Vijaya Karnataka recounted her progress from doing ‘soft issues’ to daily editorials and reviewing copy. Among the first two women who worked night shifts at a leading Kannada daily (which discouraged her from joining, incidentally) and convinced the management for a congenial workplace and better transport facilities for all night shift workers, she insistently opted for the late shift (despite resistance) to gain knowledge of editorial roles, critical to career growth. Reiterating that "Media is for news and not personal credit and that its basic objective remains unchanged", she emphasized the importance of regular reading and research. Glad to find youngsters gaining more opportunities in media, she believes that women must continue their struggle to be heard and common topics like the budget can have a gender perspective with a balanced view.

Recalling her family’s objection to her journalistic career in 1975, Tanushree discussed her initial gender discrimination experiences and women’s absence in night shifts until the 1980’s. Stating, "During my second job interview when men asked me if I would cover a riot after 7 pm I simply replied yes", she expressed how the fearless and pioneering women journalists like the late Prabha Dutt (Delhi bureau chief, Hindustan Times and television reporters Barkha and Bahar Dutt’s mother), Usha Rai (former Deputy Director of the Press Institute of India) inspired her. She opined that media and other professional women are often conditioned to think like men and that powerful, personalized women’s programmes like Vividh Bharati’s Sakhi Saheli are essential. Narrating how the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 (which safeguards their interests including interns/trainees) helped her, she highlighted the need to know our own rights and relevant legislations and not just those essential to reporting.

Finding primarily men discussing the WRB especially on TV, R.S. Prakash a retired media professional suggested a nationwide campaign demanding a women’s perspective on it. Ullash Kumar R. K., a freelance writer, film maker et al who has enjoyed working with women editors at Combat Law wondered why women journalists sometimes don’t create an impact given their strength. Two Commits students then sought views on gender stereotyping in media. Architect Pushpanjali Reddy briefed us about her recently published DeFacto, a book cum directory profiling some Bangalore based women achievers and listing women professionals and institutions that support/assist women. Appreciating the meeting, Gowri G, a human rights activist with Samanatha Mahila Vedike, performer and writer said that it was important for women to discuss their own problems. Observing that regular online and print media columnists connect personally with readers, I also illustrated how one can leverage internet media’s flexibility and reach across the age and socio-cultural spectrum.

When Anita summarized NWMI and NWMB’s composition, meetings and activities, inviting participants to become members (especially if they are associated with media, writing, film making, photography, etc.), some people suggested having a media watch on WRB. With beautiful potted plants in colourful jute bags and flowers for the speakers and gratitude and appreciation for the press club staff’s silent and effective support, we left, satisfied by an afternoon well spent, some friendships renewed and more established and a bonding unique to women convening.

Anita Cheria, Monideepa Saha and Tanushree Gangopadhyay (NWMB members) provided valuable inputs to this piece

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