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Oscar Winner ‘Spotlight’ Reminds Us What Journalism Is Really About (But That’s Not All)

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By Merril Diniz:

If the media reportage of the last few weeks has reinforced anything, it’s that the traditional, so-called “mainstream media” can no longer be relied upon for producing authentic news. Consumers are ill-advised to believe everything reported on TV news channels, newspapers and their corresponding online publications. After all, what was reported on the “JNU Issue” is far from the truth of what was really going on and what instigated events in the first place.

Not only is journalism being sensationalised, it is being completely fabricated for mercenary and political purposes, thus posing a serious threat to the peace and the well-being of society. In the light of these developments, Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Spotlight‘ reminds us of what journalism is really about.

It transports us back to 2002 when the systemic abuse of children by clergy in the Roman Catholic church was brought to light due to the sincerity and dedication of journalists from the Boston Globe’s investigative team ‘Spotlight’, under the leadership of the newspaper’s editor. So shocking were the revelations of this news report, that the Boston Globe’s original article began trending in 2016, post the release of the film. I too, read it with rapt interest and noticed that it was still trending in the top spot on February 29, as I wrote this piece.

If you haven’t already seen ‘Spotlight‘, here’s a trailer that might pique your interest:

The modus operandi of Spotlight journalists was to spend months and sometimes years, researching a story, gathering evidence and personal accounts, before doing an extensive exposé on the subject. Their article, published on January 6, 2002, opened the floodgates, and the newspaper began receiving phone calls from people around the world, wanting to share their own stories of abuse at the hands of the church. By December 2002, the head of the church in Boston resigned and several of the offenders were behind bars.

In the film, the Spotlight team has been portrayed as extremely sincere in their quest for the truth. From what I understand, this sincerity isn’t fabricated. As the reporters dug deeper, the more horrified they became, at the extent of the abuse, and the lengths to which senior clergy members, lawyers and others had gone to cover it up and maintain the status quo.

Sadly, in today’s times, the burden of exposing the truth, cannot lie with journalists alone. We live in a world where corporate-owned behemoths with huge overheads and too many stakeholders to please, are calling the shots in the media “business”. Luckily, bloggers, alternative media platforms, advocacy groups, petition platforms, et al, are all playing a role in exposing the ugly truths that dog society. Yet, their efforts are never enough.

As consumers of media, we must assume just as much responsibility as those who produce it, because we read and share news on our social media timelines, on a daily basis, playing a role in what becomes gospel truth, tomorrow. Shouldn’t we, as consumers, then attempt to authenticate whether what we read is true, before being a conduit in promoting falsified news reports? If we would have done it in the case of the JNU protests, we would have been less gullible to sensationalised, fabricated and mindless reportage.

While there’s no sure-fire way of coming to the right conclusion, it’s advisable not to rely on just one news source. We’ll need to read multiple sources of news before rattling off the first thing that comes to mind on social media. We’ll need to keep an eye on alternative media platforms, which are attempting to look at things in different ways, bringing in a mix of reportage, opinion and data to the mix. We’ll need to watch out for the blogs and social media pages by non-profits and advocacy groups, which expose social evils and atrocities on man and the environment. We’ll need to watch documentary films that delve into subjects in detail.

In today’s day and age, even if we have zeroed in on a couple of news sources that we feel are authentic, it pays to keep reviewing and refining this list as we never know when the mercenary tide can turn.

It might sound tedious – this process of constantly questioning what is true and what is fiction, and then reading up a host of news reports before concluding what we think might be the truth. But it is, unfortunately, inevitable because they don’t make journalists like the Spotlight team, which by the way, went on to win the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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