The role of media has become very significant in the past few years. The killings of regional journalists and the allegations of big media houses co-opting with the establishments has put the focus on the status of journalism on the ground. Senior journalist Neha Dixit spoke to the stalwarts of fearless journalism- Chitra Ahanthem, Jisa Elizabeth, and S. Senthalir- on the challenges of speaking truth to the power during the two-day-long Youth Ki Awaaz Summit on September 1 at Dr BR Ambedkar International Center in New Delhi.
Neha Dixit set the debate rolling on the many challenges in journalism like gender stereotypes, under representation of women, and absence of regional diversity in the national narrative.
Roles and Challenges Of Women Journalist:
Neha Dixit, who is an independent journalist and has has been speaking truth to the power through her hard-hitting investigative and analytical articles, said, “Women journalists are not given hard-hitting beats like politics, defence, or crime. They are mostly confined to features and culture beats. Also, there’s a perception that women do not read the news but ‘near news’. These are just a few of the gender stereotypes within the media industry.”
Chitra Ahanthem, an Imphal-based journalist who has been working been actively working and reporting on grassroots issues in Manipur, said “There are a lot of myths about women from the northeast. On one hand, people say that they are very strong, while on the other hand it is propagated that they aren’t as much feminist. Women in the northeast are underrepresented in various decision-making and policymaking process and suffer.”
S. Senthalir, a Puducherry-based journalist who reports on issues related to caste, child rights, gender and politics, said, “Roles of women in journalism is extremely limited and confined to particular topics only. In my case, once I pitched a story on organised trafficking and sex tourism, I was discouraged. When I approached someone on the national desk, I was questioned why I surpassed the hierarchy. It’s sad to see to the relevance and value of the story was organised due to the existing system, especially in the bureaus, which is very male-dominated.”
Jisha Elizabeth, a Thiruvananthapuram-based young award-winning journalist at Maadhyamam Daily and an executive member of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, said, “It’s challenging to be a woman journalist, and it becomes more difficult if a woman wants to be part of journalist union. The union was established in 1956, but it is only now that they have female office bearers. Every woman had to face slut shaming when they wanted to contest for Kerala Journalist Union. As an independent journalist, I had to struggle even to go and ask for votes. It’s male-dominated system, and the offices had only male urinals. We cannot even go to libraries after 6 Pm because male journalists sit and drink. We have raised voices to sit in panels and not manels.”
Parachute Journalism and Lack Of Regional Diversity
Neha Dixit: “There is a need for diversity because the media currently is dominated by males and upper caste. Also, news from different regions of the country rarely makes to the national media. There’s a new phenomenon that is emerging called parachute journalism, where journalists who have little knowledge of the region go and report, while journalists who work form there are ignored.”
Chitra Ahanthem: “National media is all about what happens in Delhi and Mumbai. There is an alienation of other regions and their issues. The people working on serious issues in these regions are rarely given importance. I have been writing on issues for 18 years, but still, at times, I’m referred as a regional journalist or a stringer by national media. If journalists come to the northeast, they only ask for logistics or translations and would refer us, local journalists. Once I was on a telephonic conversation speaking about economic blockade in Manipur for a story. People were dying due to lack of basic supplies. But the phone was cut, and the story was dropped because of a plane accident in Kanpur. Raising voice on issues is difficult at the regional level. Subscription is low, and the government will advertise only if you praise them, especially with BJP government in the state and Centre.”
Jisha Elizabeth: “We Keralites lost 370 people. I lost everything in my home. But, our plight was ignored by the national media. We asked for 2,000 crores from Centre, but we got only 600 crores. When UAE govt wanted to help, Centre refused. National media ignores regional issues. Moreover, there was a propaganda that because people in Kerala are beef-eaters they deserve to suffer. “