Role of Women in Indian Journalism

Women have time and again proven that they are good at every job a man can do.

“There is no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There is only

the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

— Arundhati Roy

As children, we grew up sitting beside our parents watching the news on television, where men in black suits delivered the breaking news with a quiescent tone, gave weather reports and hosted exclusive primetime shows to address the most pressing issues around the world. We grew up watching men dominate the screen, the newspaper and the ground, with some exceptions of a handful of women journalists who made it to the top.

Gender imbalance has been plaguing Indian media, like most other professions, since its inception. But we must pore over data to examine how much we have moved forward in terms of female representation in the newsroom. The improved page space for gender-based issues, the reduced biases in allocating non-women-crowded ‘beats’ to women, the increased participation of women stringers in investigative journalism and live on-ground reportage — these could be some of the non-subjective data points that could help us arrive at that conclusion.

According to the UN Women report titled Gender Inequality in Indian Media, women barely occupied 5% of leadership positions in newsrooms from 2018 to 2019. From 2019 to 2021, the numbers are not too different either.

Source: UN Women

The United Nations Women report on “Gender Inequality in Indian Media 2021” connotes that 85% of panelists who appeared for English debate shows were men, while for Hindi news, the number was pegged higher at over 91%. The report also highlighted that discussions on global news, defense, and legislative matters in English channels constituted almost 90% male panels while the maximum number of women –32% — were found in debates related to entertainment or humanitarian issues.

Source: UN Women Report

Moreover, the 2021 report also highlighted that around 51% of all the English debates had zero women panelists, compared to the 2018–2019 report which is slightly better at 47%.

With women conquering higher mental and professional barriers successfully year-on-year, the question that arises now is also a little disturbing — What keeps the Fourth estate, the profession responsible for enlightening dark minds with information, away from breaking the bias?

Prabha Dutt reported the 1965 war from the frontline. Source: Barkha Dutt Twitter

In 1964, Prabha Dutt, the late mother of prominent journalist Barkha Dutt was denied employment by the Editor of the Hindustan Times post her completion of the internship. Years later, when they changed their employment policies to include women, Prabha Dutt barged into the editor’s office, demanding a job. Over time, she became the first woman chief reporter of a national daily. Today, her daughter, Barkha Dutt has worked in several national news portals, hosted conversational shows and panel debates, as well as covered intense and extended fieldwork.

However, Prabha and her daughter Barkha remain exceptions to the rule.

Women journalists have and perhaps continue to face the brunt of bias against ‘beat’ allocations, opportunities to participate in investigational reportage (The excuse being physically endangering environments, long hours and night duties) and extensive pay gaps.

A study conducted by the Global Media Monitoring Project in partnership with the Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) revealed that women are mostly allocated “soft” beats such as fashion, entertainment, lifestyle compared to the serious “hard-core” beats of politics, business and crime generally reserved for the men.

The new-age story has only added to their woes — Social Media trolls (remember, Nidhi Razdan), cyber-crimes (The Bulli Bai episode) and even Sexual Harassment at the workplace (Tarun Tejpal’s case for instance) are the new methods to keep Women with a voice marginalized and shut out. Like most male-dominated professions, a degree and extensive experience in the field still does not get them to C-suite roles in their organizations.

But why must we blame just the News media industry? They too are an integral part of society. Ultimately, they are in the business of acquiring and keeping eyeballs glued to their screens. If the audiences they are addressing believe a woman journalist is lesser capable than her male counterpart to bring effective news-worthy information to their screens, they have to play ball. After all, how can we forget that India’s ranks on the Gender Inequality Index and the Global Gender Gap Index are still way below par with its developed counterparts?

The 50:50 Project Ros Atkins (Source: Nieman Lab)

Bringing in gender inclusivity and diversity can be easier said than done. The 50:50 BBC Project, spearheaded by Ros Atkins, was one such successful effort. The project that started out with the aim to increase female representation across all global outlets of BBC to 50%, led to teams across the globe fighting their own personal biases to put the Best Women on Air. And over several months of consistent effort, the 50:50 project reached its ultimate goal.

In all fairness, the Covid pandemic too did give us an opportunity we cannot deny. Users armed with data packs and time to spare, resorted to digital media (also known as New Media) for rapid News consumption. Women who were thus far deprived of opportunities to go out on the field and report, now got a chance to express themselves via off-field reports and fast-paced short information snippets. The job market for women across the board, irrespective of geographical or age-related barriers had suddenly begun to explode.

For those who didn’t catch up with the times, undoubtedly the reverse happened. Advertising revenues and paid subscriptions became a hard sell for those Media houses that didn’t take the right pivot and were overtaken by New Media that not only reported responsibly and quickly but also brought about a fresh wave of balanced gender perspective.

The purpose of Media is now becoming clearer for the better. Those sitting in newsrooms controlling the narrative and steering the angle coverage of a particular story and its placement in the papers or over the airwaves– have the reigns to dictate terms on what the audience knows and how they come to know of it.

The 21st century and its ensuing digital revolution has seen women spearheading innovation, pioneering scientific discoveries, executing global policy and taking up leadership roles in various industry verticals, even those that were thus far known to be dominated by men. With Women’s History Month coming to an end, it is important to recognize the role of women in journalism, acknowledge their contributions in the field and make space for alternate opinions and perspectives. It is not just for gender representation that the above is necessary but it is steps like these that public-facing professions such as Media and Journalism must take up to ensure the upcoming decades do not decry the same imbalance that we do today.

You were reading a Dais Editorial 2022 ©

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