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Though the Indian media has expanded its horizons in terms of publications and formats – from print to television to the internet to digital media to mobile phones, its treatment and approach to women and women’s issues remain more or less the same. The active participation of women in the media – journalists, editors, news-readers, anchors has not made many dents into the portrayal of the images of women because the media has slowly become an object of control by corporate players, advertising agendas, politics and patriarchy.

This, unfortunately, is a global truth that cuts across the economic and developmental status of different countries including the education and empowerment levels of the women in these countries. For example, though the appointments of women editors for the first time in the US in papers such as the Detroit Free Press, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and others had raised hopes that women were finally gaining more newsroom power, other data suggested that the rise was largely an illusion. In 2002, among ISA’s top 30 daily-circulation newspapers, only eight had women editors. Of those 30 papers, 19 changed editors within the following three years, with only four choosing women to fill the vacant posts. Three -the New York Daily News, the New York Post, and The Arizona Republic in Phoenix -chose to replace departing women with men. Sheila Gibbons, a US journalist says, “The glass ceiling in media companies appears shatter-proof. Not only do women’s pay and promotions continue to lag behind those of men, but the gap also widens as women log more years on the job and gain experience, a sort of reverse reward system.”

The active participation of women in the media – journalists, editors, news-readers, anchors has not made many dents into the portrayal of the images of women because the media has slowly become an object of control by corporate players, advertising agendas, politics and patriarchy.

Commenting on the Fourth World Conference on Women, Carolyn Hannan, Director, United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) said that the area of women and the media was established as one of the twelve critical areas of concern in the Platform for Action. The Platform noted that advances in information technology have aided in the growth of a global communications network that has impacted public policy, private attitudes and behaviour. Gender-based stereotyping and professional inequality were identified as barriers to the representation and career advancement of women in the media industry. The potential of the media for contributing to the advancement and empowerment of women was further recognized. In addressing the issue of the mobilization of the media, Governments and other actors were urged to promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in policies and programmes.

Way back in March 1997, The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at its fortieth session in March 1997, examined measures to be used for increasing the participation and access to decision-making in and through the media and new communication technologies. The Commission made recommendations for Governments and relevant UN bodies in five areas: (a) Respect for the human rights of women, including freedom of expression, and the media; (b) Self-regulation, voluntary guidelines and responsiveness to civil society; (c) The important role of media education; (d) Creating an enabling environment; and (e) Women and global communications.

Sixteen years later, the situation has not changed much though on the surface, women might be more visible and decisive in media organizations across the board. Women are still not employed in key decision-making positions in sufficient numbers to influence media policy. Negative images of women and stereotyped portrayals continue to persist, and in some contexts has even increased. Stereotypical attitudes and behaviour in local, national and international media are evident. The field of ICTs was male-centred and language barriers and high costs of equipment and internet access effectively barred most women from full utilization of the internet.

In 2008, the National Commission of Women in India initiated a project on “The Status of Women Journalists in the Print Media” to look into issues affecting the role of women working in the Print Media. As part of a broader study on working women in India, it was executed by the Press Institute of India (PII) through empirical data collected from almost all states and Union Territories in the country. Pamela Bhagat prepared an Executive Summary Report on the project.

The objective of the research was (i) to examine the problems and issues confronting women working in the media, (ii) to gauge the extent of direct and indirect discrimination at the workplace and (iii) to identify contemporary issues that need to be addressed. The research was coordinated by Pamela Bhagat with the support of media representatives from various regions – Linda Chhakchhuak from Shillong, Rajashri Dasgupta from Calcutta, Sushmita Malaviya from Bhopal, R. Akhileshwari from Hyderabad and Surekha Sule from Mumbai – who together formed a National Study Group. The National Study Group assisted with the design and implementation of the 20-page questionnaire. Usha Rai, Deputy Director, Press Institute of India, guided and steered the group.

Though the sample size was approximately 3500, the response from the print media stood at 410 women which shows a response rate of 11.5%. English print media women journalists in the national media were the least cooperative in responding to the questionnaire. Most of the data collected were through personal interaction that brought out much more than the questionnaires did because more women talked about things they were hesitant to put on paper.

Major concerns that emerged from the study were job insecurity because journalists were employed as daily wage labour, signing a muster at the end of the month to get a pittance of Rs 1500 to Rs 3000 as wages; contract system of employment; neglect of maternity and child-care provisions and sexual harassment. Other issues raised by respondents were:

• “More women are employed in the media now since they are available at lower salaries on the contract system. In such circumstances, gender-fair reporting and practices are more difficult to promote.”
• “After initial resistance, even women journalists start justifying organisational insensitivity. They are instrumental in perpetuating lack of recognition of women’s special needs and functions in society – childbirth, childcare, confinement, security after night duty etc. Many believe the myth that women journalists have limitations within organisations since they cannot do night shifts.”
• “Regular dilemma is childcare vs. profession. Effect of work on marital relations differs between male journalists and women journalists.”
• “Longer maternity leave is important since confinement and childcare are very demanding on health and emotions. This would usually be required once or twice in all working life so no big deal.”
• “Women’s most productive years are also their reproductive years.”
• “Women journalists are conscientious, diligent and people relate more easily to us. However, male bosses do not give credit for professionalism -instead, speak of women exploiting their gender.”
• “As a profession, very satisfying and stimulating but the work environment needs to be egalitarian and encouraging. At present enthusiasm often watered down by unresponsive organisations that are not sensitive to gender-specific requirements which are often viewed as liabilities – transport, maternity leave, childcare facilities, restrooms etc.”
• “There is no transparency in policy matters – entitlements, rights and promotion criteria”.
Reports Bhagat: “An astounding 20.5% of respondents said that women were discriminated against for promotion. 45.5 felt it was because of their sex, some felt it was because of age and a large proportion refused to comment – 21.2 percent. 8.4 percent were forced to leave a media organisation due to promotion discrimination.”

The nature and scale of the continued marginalization of women in the media, together with the difficulty of establishing effective systems of accountability in an increasingly commercial and globalizing media marketplace, meaning that no single strategy can accomplish much on its own.

Joe Strupp in “Women Editors on the Rise – Has the Glass Ceiling Been Shattered” in In-Depth (September 16, 2002) writes: “Most publishers contend that a major requirement in choosing an editor is finding someone who shares their vision for the paper, their approach to news coverage and daily operations — be it, man or woman. In theory, that approach should put most candidates on an even playing field as they contend for the top editor’s spot. In reality, however, it tends to give a man the advantage if the one doing the hiring is also a man.

The nature and scale of the continued marginalization of women in the media, together with the difficulty of establishing effective systems of accountability in an increasingly commercial and globalizing media marketplace, meaning that no single strategy can accomplish much on its own. Ideally, a variety of approaches which support and sustain each other is called for. Experts in the field need to consider experiences and approaches that have proved to be successful in specific contexts and to draw from lessons and good practices that will help provide recommendations for policies and actions. The discussions should be forward-looking and identify emerging trends and new challenges to more effectively promote the empowerment of women in the media and information fields at the local, regional and global levels, and to ensure that the media can be utilized effectively as a powerful tool for promoting equality between women and men.

US educator Yolanda Moses, President of the City College of New York, quoted in New York Times, September 12, 1993, said, “Institutions of higher education in the United States are products of Western society in which masculine values like an orientation toward achievement and objectivity are valued over cooperation, connectedness and subjectivity.” This would apply more strongly to Third World countries like India.

Dr Shoma A Chatterji

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