Media plays a huge role in shaping the perception of ourselves and of the world we inhabit therefore it is of critical importance that we concerned ourselves with media messages and how it impacts our thinking and perspective of the world. Women have been using media to mobile mass campaigns and movements for social justice. They transport their messages through different mediums to disrupt social orders and spin novel social processes.
Feminists have long recognised the importance of self-managed, alternative media and hence increasingly media production is being managed by women. Through new emerging communication technologies, women have started to campaign for feminism.
In a webinar organized by Gender Impact Studies Centre at Impact and Policy Research Institute, Delhi Post News and Gender Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram, Jaspleen Pasricha, Founder, Director and Editor in chief, Feminism in India (FII) highlights the constructive media in which news is influenced by the reporter’s social location and choices are based on certain editorial decisions.
The different mediums use creative language which evokes certain feelings that impacts the way the subject is perceived by the public. Thus, being aware of such language can reduce people’s susceptibility to messages and increase their appreciation for the creative process. She also points out that media stories are value-laden and carries the message regardless of their impact on public opinions.
She opined that media is created for profits and hence it is important to make sponsors, channels and advertisers accountable for misinformation. It is being observed that certain media houses deliberately spread fake news for Television Rating Point’s (TRP) and they align it with certain political agendas hurting the sentiments of people. Thus, as media consumers, its people’s responsibility to cross-check and fact check every news item.
She defines alternative media as anything independent, distant, radical, underground, subversive, non-cooperate, progressive, small and falls outside the perspective of mainstream media. It differs from established or dominant forms of media. She says this form of media is booming simultaneously with digital media. It uses a wide spectrum of communication, technologies and formats like Facebook, YouTube or Instagram or media platforms based on newsletters.
Further, Pasricha points out the issues of lack of Indian women and minorities’ representation on the internet, increasing online abuse and gender-based violence, online harassment faced by women and minorities often, spreading patriarchal ideas through fake news and misinformation. This stems from the need for feminist media.
She says that the discourse around the scale of gender-based violence has been gaining momentum all over the world especially in India, however, the problems persist on how the reportage heinousness of crimes such as rapes, sexual harassment, sexual violence is being carried out in media along with the kind of language used.
Pasricha highlighted how ‘spooky’ headlines are made to invoke horror and shock among people, which are generally insensitive and problematic. The featured images are often insensitive depicting the victim’s helplessness and misery throughout her life. The language used, highly blames victims by putting them in bad light ignoring the perpetrator completely. This whole wrong use of speeches influences the thinking of the public. Thus, it is important to shift the media focus from victim to perpetrators.
She condemned media for not including women’s perspective in COVID-19 related policy documents, advisories, news coverage, scholarly articles. The women issues have not been covered properly, bringing women at a greater risk of being marginalised within societies given the global health crisis.
Citing an example to elucidate her point she says accessibility to menstrual products, the crisis of disposable pads were completely ignored from media coverage. She further adds that the media has been ignorant of sexual health for women especially regarding abortion which is a stigma and a challenge to safe and confidential abortion services even in regular non-pandemic circumstances.
With the current public health emergency where facilities have been repurposed for COVID-19 management, there has been a shortage of abortion services. This shows how COVID-19 has ignored women’s health. Pasricha further emphasised the need for telemedicine to support people without exposing staff to viruses/infections in times of such outbreaks.
“It is important to have alternate forms of media too bring a diversity in the media ecosystem and to hold mainstream media accountable,” says Pasricha. Further, alternative media platforms are led by citizen journalism which better report in areas where mainstream media is unable to reach. Thus, alternative media empower citizens and be vocal about their issues. Social media empower alternative media by giving power and autonomy.
“Whether we promote women rights in media or we continue to sell the stories of their sufferings is a hard choice which we have to make.” Says Dr Simi Mehta, CEO & Editorial Director at IMPRI and Fulbright scholar, Ohio State University, USA.
The feminist media industry needs to be encouraged to produce gender-transformative content and to develop self-regulatory equality policies, including access to decision-making positions thereby creating gender equality in content, workplace and management.
Acknowledgements: Nishi Verma is the research program assistant at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.