Millennium Post

Woman in a man’s world

Today, as every Friday, I’ll be presenting the BBC’s new weekly Hindi TV news programme, ‘Global India’. I was chosen to front it after having worked for more than ten years on the BBC’s radio and online output. Every day that I work in this unforgiving medium of TV, I think of where I sit, as a woman, in the wider arena of India’s journalism. Journalism has, of course, been a male bastion for years but very gradually women are being seen, heard and read more on various media platforms, and slowly but steadily we are marking our presence felt.

However, some facts and figures about British and Indian media caught my attention recently and made me pause to think. According to a study carried out by a British press organisation, Women in Journalism, 78 per cent of front-page articles in British national newspapers are written by men and an even higher 84 per cent of those quoted or mentioned in the articles are men.  Figures by Media and Gender Monitor, a publication of the WACC Media & Gender Justice Programme, show that last year 24% of news stories globally were about women, and women were the focus of less than one-fifth of all news stories about politics and government in 2010. If you look at one specific story - the US presidential election - more than three quarters of newspaper stories were written by men, according to figures provided by the Women’s Media Centre, an American NGO.

In India, the facts make even more disturbing reading. Despite on-going debates on women’s empowerment, gender representation in media remains low at all levels. According to an Indian study, representation of women journalists at the district level stands at a shockingly low 2.7 per cent while there are six states and two Union Territories which have no female journalists at all working at the district level. These numbers are important in helping us understand how issues get reported. There is an obvious danger that, with mostly men reporting on all issues, they reflect a predominantly ‘male perspective’. I think this lop-sidedness needs correction if women are to play a bigger part in a democracy.

In Britain recently, Lord Justice Leveson’s report into press standards criticised the way women are depicted in newspapers. This has struck a chord with various campaigners in the UK and has reignited the whole conversation about not only how women are reported in the media but on their low representation in the media as well. It is my hope that this finds some resonance in India and helps generate a more serious debate on the presence of women in the journalism industry.

When I look at the twin issues of women as media professionals and as the subject of reportage, I feel that, in both respects, women suffer from being objectified and stereotyped in many different ways. This is one of our biggest challenges: how to break the stereotypes. There is a big debate going on in the UK over the relative merits, for TV news, of the older woman over the young ‘beauty’, or vice versa, and questions are being asked about why it is ok to have older male presenters on screen but apparently not so appealing to use older women. In the Indian media, especially in electronic media, I also feel there is an obsession with women’s age, and there is too much focus on what women wear and how they look rather than what they have to say.

Campaigners have long complained that there is a pronounced tendency across the whole of the media for women to disproportionately appear in passive roles - perhaps as victims of crime - instead of actually doing something. Unless women get a better footing on various platforms of the fourth pillar of the democracy, I am afraid the reporting of gender and other issues will continue to get trapped in stereotypes.

Rupa Jha presents the BBC Hindi weekly TV programme,  Global India
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