Archana Datta argues it’s time to look at women in India with a renewed lens because we have not given them the column or screen space they deserve. She says that the fight for women’s rights, freedom and justice will flounder in the media industry unless there is a concerted effort to use the various advantages that the media revolution of our times provides.
Rapid advancements in communication technology have brought about irreversible changes in the media industry, both in terms of numbers and variety. Newer platforms of personal and interactive media are emerging and people are no longer merely connected by the web, but are using it to
shape and change each others’ lives in ways more profound than could be imagined even a decade ago.
In this era of massive media expansion, how have women been affected? Has their representation in this expanded media space improved? What kinds of spaces do they really occupy? Has their representation managed to transcend stereotypes? Perhaps the main question is how much of a voice do women have, both on screen and in the boardrooms of the media industry?
Positive changes aren’t hard to spot. Newsrooms today have a much larger proportion of women than in the past, and one even finds a growing number of women in the throng of camerapersons and media crew reporting on various events. Women journalists now cover everything from politics and foreign policy to the economy and sports. This is remarkable as it wasn’t very long ago that a woman in the media industry was considered appropriate only for stories on lifestyle, fashion and glamour. Studies show that female reporters are responsible for as much as 37 per cent of news stories generated, compared to 28 per cent a decade ago. Women’s participation in social media is also significant, and many women have often been at the forefront of exploring newer and experimental communication
These changes are undoubtedly in the right direction, but we mustn’t celebrate merely on the basis such cursory developments and look at the deeper composition of the media industry. A joint study by UNESCO, UN Women and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 2015 presented a less than perfect state of affairs for women journalists in the Asia-Pacific region. The study found that women constitute only 28.6 percent of the media workforce. Men outnumber women 4 to 1 in Indian
media spaces. There is no pan-India data on the total number of women working in the media, but one gets a sense of the disparity when only 10% of journalists accredited with the Press Information Bureau in 2017 are women. It seems that while women’s visibility (especially in the electronic news media) has certainly increased, journalism in India still remains an uneven playing field.
Speaking at a consultation meet on women in New Delhi in 2014, Lise Grande, the Resident Representative of UNDP and the UN Resident Coordinator, highlighted the inadequate participation of women in media workplaces and said, “Media houses need to take the lead in gender parity by allocating 50 percent of management roles to women, ensuring equal wages for equal work, and introducing a gender sensitive code of conduct.”
A Committee set up by the Government of India in 2012 to examine the status of women found that it is not just in numbers but also in salaries that women are adversely affected. Women’s presence in senior management positions is still negligible. This is particularly disappointing as one cannot claim gender parity in the media industry unless women have an equal say in the decision-making process.
It is also worth noting the unequal risks that women in the media industry face which often deters women from joining the industry. This is an environment that often requires working odd hours, and the recent murder of Soumya Vishwanathan, a producer of a news channel in Delhi, shows how ubiquitous the danger of physical assault is. The 2015 UN study reveals widespread cases of sexual harassment at media workplaces, with 34 percent women journalists in the Asia-Pacific witnessing sexual harassment at work. At least 17 percent of the women have personally experienced workplace sexual harassment and, in 59 percent of the cases, the perpetrator was found to be a superior. Moreover, as in many other professions, women in the media have to constantly battle against sexist
stereotypes and prejudice, and a woman is always expected to prove her professionalism to an extent which her male counterparts simply never have to.
The fight for women’s rights, freedom and justice will flounder in the media industry unless there is a concerted effort to use the various advantages that the media revolution of our times provides. The asymmetrical advantage and accessibility that social media, for instance, offers to women is an opportunity that could be harnessed to bring about a positive, productive, and meaningful change in the lives of millions of people. While the media industry itself should own-up to the disparity and inequality it engenders, the very nature of the communications revolution works in ways in which the monopoly of the industry itself may be challenged from the outside. But for this to happen, apart from policy-changes and governmental and company management rethinks, women themselves have to start looking at themselves as responsible participants in the media web that we are inevitably and inextricably a part of, and take the mantle of change upon ourselves.