Social Outlook

Women in Mass Media

Himashri Baishya

How to empower women is the most talked about issue across the world today. The bitter reality is that, though, some women from the elite society enjoy certain amount of freedom and decision making power, but, in reality majority of Indian women are still helpless without any identity except that of a wife, or a mother ,having very little voice in the family. In a rapidly changing social environment, the women in the field of mass media have contributed much towards shaping the public opinion. Though there is little documentation available on the history of women's involvement in the media industry of India, "Hemant Kumari Devi" is widely accepted as the first known woman journalist In Hindi. She was the editor of the journal Sugribini from Allahabad in 188 t 8. Following her, in the first half of the twentieth century, several other women journalists joined this profession. According to the available resources many of them were also involved in movements for religious and social reform and/or national independence. After that, Homai Vyarawalla is considered as the first woman Photo Joiunalist in India and also the first one to enter into the mainstream journalism in the early 1930s. She photographed some of the most influential Indian politicians including, Mahatma,Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Indira Gandhi etc. In truth, the present wave of women journalists in India started at the beginning of the the new economic policy of privatisation and liberalisation launched by the former Prime Minster of India, Mr Narsimha Rao. The status of women in English press, especially in major cities like Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi, Kolkatta and Chennai, had been improved quantitatively and qualitatively over the years. However, in contrast to the English press, the vernacular press is too slow to allow women journalists to enjoy freedom and liberal work culture.

The number of working women in mass media has increased in the last few years, but, their ratio in comparison to men has remained static. More importantly, the women journalists in India are deemed to be more sensitive and crucial to the issues relating to women.

 Both in urban and rural areas the women journalists have to face various risk factors. The risk increases, particularly in rural areas. In this context Justice GN Ray of Supreme Court opined that "at the district and taluk levels, from where the bulk of the print media is published, and which are more news-worthy places for the local and regional news contents, there is more conservation, more rigid social outlook and greater resistance to social change and new trends. In these areas women join new professions like journalism sparingly; in remote and rural areas a woman journalist and particularly a reporter is not easily accepted and assimilated by the society outlooks; The result : media women have to work almost in isolation particularly at the ground levels, if they are at all employed. The incidents of 'sexual harassment' and 'assault' of women journalists are not rare in India, whether inside or outside the media industry. Various reported cases in this context have showed that "odd hours of job make the women journalists vulnerable". While remembering the gross hate crimes against media personal in India one can rightly point out that the rate of crime against male journalists are few as compared to female journalists.

The murder of Ms Soumya Vishwanathan, Producer of News TV channel in Delhi in 2007 shows that "women journalist workers are more exposed to the risk of physical assault causing threat to their life". Ms. Soumya Vishwanathan was a 25- year- old journalist who was found dead in her car in Vasant Kunj, Delhi, while she was returning to home at 3.3o am from her work place.

 The Tarun Tejpal case of rape and sexual harassment of his collogue woman journalist is still fresh in the minds of Indian people. He was the founder of "Thehelka Magazine". He was charged under Sections 376, 354A, 354B, 341, and 342 IPC, to have sexually assaulted and raped his female colleague inside the elevator of a five star hotel in Goa in 2013.

Another incident was the 'Gauri Lankesh murder case of 2017. She was an Indian journalist cum human rights activist from Bangalore, Karnataka. She was assassinated outside her home on 5th September, 2017. "At the time of her death, Gauri was known for being a critic of right-wing Hindu extremism" The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)  described it as "the most high-profile journalist murdered in recent years.

While remembering these gross hate crimes against women journalists, one can conclude that female journalists are not safe in the prevailing working atmosphere.

Vol. 53, No. 16, Oct 18 - 124, 2020