“I’ve been able to do work that is meaningful to me”

Watching media makes up large part of her work. She thinks that the younger generation of journalists are very active, but media fails to connect the dots on larger issues.

A delicious aroma of the coffee cake in the kitchen fills the drawing room when I walk in. Ammu Joseph was in a relaxed mood at her home in Koramangala. She is absolutely fond of cooking and gardening.

Ammu, a 58-year-old independent journalist, watches media closely and this has always been on top of her list. She has also authored many books on media and the gender issues in media. She moved out of the mainstream media in the late 80s, because she thought she could contribute to the field from outside.

Ammu Joseph. Pic: Anisha Nair

Excerpts from the interview.

So when did you decide to move out of the mainstream media and freelance?

When I moved to Bangalore. I was working in Mumbai as a magazine editor of the Indian Post, which was a Sunday magazine. So when the editors changed there, he wanted it to be all about entertainment, glamour and so on. And I was the wrong person for it.

So it was in the late 80s that I quit the mainstream media. Then I moved to Bangalore and decided to freelance. In some ways, there are disadvantages to it. But I find that I’ve been able to do work that is meaningful to me and obviously appreciated by some people. Now I am contributing less for mainstream media but I used to write quite regularly in various publications.

And then I also wrote books and helped NGOs with their communications. So in the process of doing that, I got much more informed in issues of street children, child labour and so on. I got in-depth knowledge on the subjects that I was anyways interested in, which in often not possible when you are a working journalist.

I found this very satisfying. And for me, climbing the ladder was not the whole point.

How do you find working as a freelancer compared to working in an organisation?

I personally opted to work independently. I was the first person to more or less reject the term freelance to describe myself. Because people think that it is some kind of hobby that people do. I started this whole thing of calling myself independent journalist.  Now I find a lot of people using that. It is just a question of whether you are employed in a publication or not. You are a professional either way.

I wouldn’t advise a student who is straight out of journalism school, to work as a freelancer. Once you have worked with a publication, you have track records and your contacts built while working. That makes a big difference.

But the main disadvantage is, writers are poorly paid. I think you can’t really make a decent living from only writing. But at the same time, you are doing what you really enjoying.

A creative writer friend of mine has said, “You can somehow make a living out of what you like to do.”

There are a few people who are afraid of giving up a job even if that makes them unhappy. I don’t think it is worth being unhappy. I didn’t make that choice when I was a single mother and I had a responsibility but then later, I felt that it would not be good for me and my daughter if I was unhappy with my work and spent my day frowning.

You have been active about women’s rights issues. Where do you think Bangalore stands?

I think Bangalore has had a pretty good tradition of being good with women. Even in the late seventies, girls here were always going out alone and there was some kind of freedom of mobility. It has a cosmopolitan culture which is always much better for women. It has a tradition of being a women friendly city.

But the situation for women’s safety whether in the homes or outside, I don’t think has improved at all. It seems to be getting worse but I am not sure if it is coming out now due to more women reporting about it. The social, cultural and economical gap between the people here may be the reason for it. A lot of people have come here in Bangalore with very mixed backgrounds.

Teaching journalism

I taught at Sophia Polytechnic college of Journalism in Mumbai. I myself was a student of that college. Then I taught at the ACJ (Asian College of Journalism) in Madras when they first started. I taught gender subject there for the first three years. Then I taught Development journalism at Commits (Bangalore).

What do you think of media’s role should be in highlighting issues like child labour and women’s issues?

I think, to the credit of media, there is no resistance from the media in covering such
issues. They are covering it. Particularly on issues relating to the middle class, like caste, etc, they are very active.

I noticed this when I was teaching journalism in colleges. There, the young generation is very active and concerned about covering issues like caste, gender, human rights, which I think is quite remarkable.

But the gap I feel is that there’ll be one story. We need more of an analysis and not an overview. For example, on anti child labour day, the media will catch hold of a canteen boy or someone and talk to  him. But they do not go deeper into the whole matter. They are more interested in covering the raids for child labourers because it is quick. But what happens to those children after that is nobody’s concern and nobody looks into it because it’s a slow process.

What do you think of citizen activism in Bangalore?

I think we have a very active citizenship. I wish we were more active a couple of decades ago. People have now realised that it’s frightening the way the city has developed. It wouldn’t have happened had people been more proactive in the late eighties. But better late than never.

I think the city authorities in the matters of development, have been extremely obstructive and often downright hostile. It makes no sense. People are learning. But they should not have to spend so much time fighting the government. They should all be on the same side.

Favourite Hangout

I love my house. I try to stay indoors as much as possible. With the traffic of Bangalore, it is difficult to even go out of the house and cross the road. So I prefer staying indoors.

You have traveled a lot of cities. How do you find Bangalore in terms of town planning and development?

Well…I think all our cities are in a huge mess. Some are just better administered than the others. Somewhere, even communities are well planned.

There has been a major investment in the infrastructure in Bangalore, whether it is the correct kind or not is secondary. Somehow, we have totally failed urbanisation. People are coming to the cities in search of opportunities but we have no idea how to run a city. Forget running it effectively.

Now, everybody here is talking about the car movement. Everybody is concerned about how to make the cars move faster with the help of flyovers, signal-free corridors, and underpasses. Nobody is even talking about simple things like playgrounds for children. It’s become more of a city of bridges than the city of gardens now.

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