Women Journalist and Freedom of Expression:
The Social Outlook

Himashri Baishya

Women empowerment is the most significant and important social movement not only in India, but also, it is the movement throughout the world. Though, the primary goal of women empowerment is the improvement of quality of life of women and their standard of living, but, it also do focus on social, economic and political upliftment of women. The bitter reality is that, though, some women from the elite classes enjoys certain amount of freedom and decision making power, but, in reality majority of Indian women are found helpless without any identity except that of a wife, or the mother who has a very little voice in decision making process of their family.

The movement
While analyzing the role of women in the rapid development of mass media industry, it has been seen that, in such a changing environment, the women in the field of mass media have contributed much towards the changing attitude of women and also in 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 women journalist In Hindi.[1] She was the editor of the journal Sugribini from Allahabad in 1888. Following her, in the first half of the twentieth century, several other women journalist came out into this profession. According to the available resources many of them involved in movements for religious and social reform and/or national independence. After that, Homai Vyarawalla[2]is considered as the first women 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 Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Indira Gandhi etc.

Following this movement, the women in India have now started to hold certain responsible position in newspaper, magazine or electronic media. Women journalists are no more confined  to the sitting job in the media industry but they have started working in Media houses as Producer, Technician, Cameraperson, Editor, Reporter and Anchor as well.  Actually, the present wave of women journalist in India was started by “the new economic policy on privatization and liberalization” launched by the former Prime Minster of India, Mr. Narsimha Rao, which not only gave the women’s movement a new dimension but also encouraged more and more women’s participation in every sphere of society. It was observed on the basis of data available in between the years 2000 to 2003 that, “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. However, in contrast to the English press, the vernacular press of the millennium has kept slow pace in the development of women in journalism.”

Social outlook
The rough estimate however shows that although 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 journalist in India is deemed to be more sensitive and crucial to the issues relating to the women. It will be relevant to mention here that, although the work status of women journalist in India is somewhat satisfactory, but, in practice, in various times they surfer awkward situation whether in the form of attract on women journalist or their molestation in the work field.

On 19th September, 2016 an article was published on “the Wire” under the heading “Do women Journalists have it harder in India”.[3] The author of this article reveals one  example is how “Khabar Lahariya” journalists said they often had to hear dismissive comments like “Mahilayien kya patrakari karengi?”and were denied information simply because they are women. They were no taken seriously where they did filed works to collect news and information. Instead, Meera, the chief reporter for Khabar Lahariya from Banda said, “Log hamein kamzor samajhte hain, unko vishwas nahi hota hai ki hum bhi patrakaar ban sakte hain”. But this doesn’t stop them from continuing to report on issues of violence against women, politics, development and crime.

It can righty be pointed out that both in the urban and rural areas the working women media personal have to face various risk factors. The risk increases in the rural areas. In this context Justice G.N. 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 is media women have to work almost in isolation particularly at the ground levels, if they are at all employed.”[4]

Online harassment
For women journalists however, speaking out about Indian and world politics is a part of their job. For doing their job, they are showered with threats and online harassment continuously. When they try to correct some of the disinformation on Twitter, that’s when a lot of the trolls come after. The online abuse that women journalists face is most visible on Twitter.

In this regard a study was conducted by “Center for Media Engagement” upon “Women journalist and Online Harassment” and interviewed 75 female professional journalists who work or who have worked for news organizations in Germany, India, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The response from India was like that “Most of the female journalists we interviewed had experienced negative audience feedback that went beyond mere critiques of their work and, instead, often took the form of harassment, targeting them personally with a focus on their gender or sexuality.” During the interview a women newspaper reporter revealed “I did this story on women being molested….. I was trolled and so many comments said that I should go the same way as the other women went. That I should be raped and thrown to the dogs”.[5]

To address this issue, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expresses serious concern over the online harassment and threats over the telephone to the independent journalists of India. Furthermore, Amnesty International India has also launched a campaign to address online violence faced by women on social media platforms like twitter.

Crime against women journalist
Apart from this social issues, the incidents of ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘assault’ of women journalist 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 journalist are few as compared to female journalist.

The murder of Ms. Soumya Vishwanathan, Producer of News TV channel in Delhi in 2007 shows that “women journalist workers is more exposed to the risk of physical assault causing threat to their life”.[6] Ms. Soumya Vishwanathan was a 25 years 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 women journalist is still fresh in the mind of the 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 former female journalist colleague inside the elevator of a five star hotel in Goa in 2013.
Another incident was the ‘Gauri Lankesh[7] murder case of 2017’. Shi was an Indian journalist cum 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 or Anti- Hindutva voices.” The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)[8] described it as “the most high-profile journalist murdered in recent years”.

In this context, the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) data on “journalists murdered with complete impunity, September 1, 2009-August 31, 2019” shows a worst picture of India. According to CPJ Impunity Index, India ranked 13 in 2019 with 17 unsolved murders of journalists in countries with worst record for justice.[9]

The CJP has also shown interest in the release of journalist Aasif Sultan, who has been imprisoned for two years, as of today. Sultan covers politics and human rights for the Kashmir Narrator, and has been unjustly detained since August 27, 2018, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, for his alleged complicity in “harboring known terrorists”.[10] Sultan’s trial, which began in June 2019, has been moving slowly and he has repeatedly been denied bail. Police have reportedly interrogated him about his writing and asked him to reveal his sources.

While remembering these gross hate crimes against media personal, one can point out that Female journalist does have to face various hate crime instances because of being a woman. Journalists should not face retaliation for their reporting. Press freedom is a vital tenet of democracy and a proud part of India’s history as committed under Article 19 of its constitution.

Therefore, it can rightly be said that, what a women journalist contributes to the development of media industry is very much, but, what they gets from the society is only a few.  Women are now seen to opt for this media profession with having the knowledge of risk factor involved in it. It is the duty of the society to make arrangement to provide adequate security to the vulnerable section of women in the media to promote their participation at all levels of their work profession. The revolution for more women’s participation in the media industry has already been started, but, various survey report throughout India have showed that the revolution is still very silent, slow and less visible. There is a need of strong and effective measures to tackle such sensitive issue. Action is clearly required at different levels: governments, media organisations, as well as intermediaries and social media platforms.  Laws are there to protect the women workers but there is a need of effective application of those while dealing any practical situation.

1. Available at
2. She worked for “The Illustrated Weekly of India” and also for the Eastern Bureau of the British Information Service in Delhi in 1947 and for “Onlooker’, an evening newspaper in Delhi.
3. Available at
4. Justice G.N. Ray, Women and media, Available at journal/Documents/D.1.%20WOMEN%20AND%20MEDIA%20JUSTICE%20%20%20%20%20G%20N%20ROY.pdf
5. Available at
6. Available at
7. She worked as an editor in Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly started by her father P. Lankesh, and ran her own weekly called Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
8. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organization[3] and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees
9. Available at
10. Available at

Himashri Baishya, Guest Teacher, University Law College, Gauthati University, Assam

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Sep 26, 2020

Himashri Baishya

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