We will all find someone or the other around, who is emphatically writing, speaking and working for women causes. And that indeed is a good thing!
I assert this with a neutral stand. Finally, women are being ‘heard’ and ‘seen’ for what they are, what they feel and what they can accomplish. The Media, for what we know it, is greatly responsible for that. Funny enough, the perception changes suitably when we engage the word with small ‘m’ or a capital ‘M’. Ah! Those discernments of the mind!
When we talk about Media, all that comes first to a common mind are adjectives like a dishonest, exaggerated, immoral even fake. The threshold levels of tolerance have certainly gone down, any unjust incident gets streamed or published on social media without a moment’s hesitation or reflection. Women who are normally passive and subdued come forth boldly with responses on social media that might not just shock the neighbors, but surprise family at home too! Women have finally found a ‘media’ to voice their views, and without any restraint or submission. They can finally speak their mind freely….
The level of participation and influence of women in the Media also has implications for content. Female Media professionals are more likely to reflect and strongly push agendas related to other women’s needs and perspectives than their male counterparts. It is more instinctive than programmed. By nature, women are perseverant, persuasive, and those are indisputably qualities that a good media needs to disseminate and communicate. However, with times the gradual new emerging transition needs to be acknowledged by the old mindset. Not all women working in the Media are now gender alert and aware and prone to cover women’s needs and perspectives. Yes, they may have an occasional smoke, sit over a Glenfiddich for a heated discussion and even may be subject to mood-swings on certain days affecting opinions or stands. But at the end of the day, women too are evolving and merging into a gender-neutral community. In the modern era this is termed as ‘Agender’ or a ‘Pangender’ community- wherein individuals do not want to be segregated or defined in their roles on the basis of their gender. We could look at it as another way to gender equality or freedom from being confined.
The presence of women on the radio, television and in print is more likely to provide positive role models and inspiration for women and girls, to gain the confidence and to attract a female audience. I know of an extremely aware, responsive and talented newsreader, reading updates for the past 15 years on the Akashwani radio- I have dubbed her, ‘the voice of Maharashtra’, out of respect. Never have I seen a lady so grounded, simple, warm and unassuming, and yet there she continues to reach every ear on her bandwidth. I see young lady journalists full of fervour and passion, sharp like the knife-edge, with incredible perspectives on the events happening around, and that has nothing to do with gender influenced opinions. I meet Women who are fired up about various causes- with an incredible vision and clarity about which Media to employ to obtain a medium to attain their objectives. They adorn crisp tasteful sarees, carry their greys with elan, interact ardently, and are crisp, precise in their communication. They know their minds, till their arena, work on pasture, and harvest their energies and efforts. All this transformation is more about gender-neutrality than gender specific approach. As a digital media professional, I too have undergone a makeover of not just thought and action, but perspectives, knowledge and comprehend better what to take seriously and what not to, over the past 5 years.
Media may offer stimulating exposure for women, like those in showbiz for instance, but they still have to learn the diplomacy and hone their skills to remain diplomatically and ethically right always. Their eventual mastery to manage Media for their image, or become media themselves to promote a cause like Dia Mirza (involved with Cancer Patients Aid Association, Spastics
Society of India, PETA, CRY and the NDTV Greenathon), Celina Jaitley (supporter of the rights and equality of the LGBT community, human rights, women and children’s health, and sex workers rehabilitation) or Vidya Balan (Campaigns for safe drinking water and sanitation as well as World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour and Child In Need Institute) often works effectively.
There is also a dark and dangerous flip side to being in active Media, especially as a journalist. Women in Media, constantly face double persecution owing to their gender and working in an insecure context, and are vulnerable to attacks not only from those attempting to silence their coverage but also from sources, colleagues and other factors impacted by their voice. Safety Institute (INSI) in partnership with the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and with the support of UNESCO, found that nearly two-thirds of women who took part in the survey had experienced intimidation, threats or abuse in the workplace. The global figures are depressingly high. But we have our share too- India was ranked 12th on the Global Impunity Index of 2020 by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The index highlights the countries “where journalists are singled out for murder and their killers go free”, reads the report, Getting Away with Murder.
The vitriol, hate and sexual abuse coming their way worsens if they are representative of a religious faction, like Ayyub Rana (Washington Post, reported on religious violence, extrajudicial killings by the state and insurgency during the Gujarat riots). But some beacons also provide the ray of hope with their brave, honest and exemplary work, even risking their lives us like Samriddhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha, (HW News Network, arrested for their coverage of the Tripura violence against Muslims that panned out in November 2021), Jyoti Yadav, just 26 (winner of the prestigious UN Laadli Media award for her article on rape culture) or Nidhi Suresh (NewsLaundry raising awareness on the dissent on freedom of speech and report on the infamous forced religious conversion case in Tilhar, UP).
The path has never been easy for women in Media, like Vidya Munshi, considered as the first Indian woman journalist, who dauntlessly joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1942 and broke some major stories of a plot by two Canadian pilots who were trying to smuggle gold through the Sundarbans and the Chinakuri mine disaster in Asansol. But we are still here, adopting, adapting and hitting the bullseye with precision, when needed. What matters is making a difference, at the end of the day. If a moment of our experience can help another, the media is worth a take. And our roles in the Media will continue to evolve, grow stronger and more gender-neutral with time.
Exclusively for Wo-Men– Power Within
Pune, Jan 26,2022