MEDIA-INDIA: More Women Now, But Few in Top Posts

  • by Ranjit Devraj (new delhi)
  • Thursday, February 25, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Although there are no reliable statistics, it is a safe bet that more than 50 percent of the staff in India’s major English-language newspapers and television channels is female.

'There is a definite trend toward feminisation of journalism, but this is happening at the lower levels,’’ observes Pamela Philipose, senior editor at the influential and multi-edition ‘Indian Express’ daily.

Philipose believes that while the trend of seeing more women than men joining the profession expected to continue, ‘’structural problems’’ will prevent most women journalists from attaining top editorial positions for some time to come.

At present, not one of India’s major dailies is headed by a female editor-in- chief.

In Philipose’s experience, women journalists have distinct advantages starting with an ability to document the lives of people and events better than their male counterparts. ‘’Women are able to build contacts, cultivate sources and persist with their stories,’’ she said.

'However,’’ she added, 'after a certain level it is not merit alone that will take you higher up in the organisation.’’

Kalpana Sharma, one of India’s most experienced women journalists, says that newspaper owners tend to be more comfortable dealing with male editors, especially in India’s typically patriarchal set-ups.

But Sharma, a former chief reporter for ‘The Hindu’ newspaper in southern Mumbai city, also hastens to add that even this is changing. ‘’Where women did not do too much socialising in the past, the new generation of female journalists seems to know how to play the game and be like the boys.’’

Sharma agrees with Philipose that female journalists are always ready to go the extra mile to get in a good story and points out that over time, several have come to acquire formidable reputations for honesty, reliability and objectivity.

She cited the example of Neerja Choudhury, a well-known New Delhi-based columnist. 'Her high credibility as a political correspondent and commentator was earned through sheer hard work and by steering away from being identified with any particular camp.’’

'Men tend to get into bum-chum relationships with their political or other sources to a point where they fail to use them,’’ said journalist Ammu Joseph. 'Women journalists, on the other hand, are able to maintain a distance and see things more objectively.’’

Joseph, author of the 2005 book ‘Making News: Women in Journalism’, said that in certain situations such as investigating rape cases, women have better access and can quickly win the trust of people who need to be closely interviewed for a story.

But Sharma added that there is a range of situations where women journalists are handicapped. 'These include dealing with the police and security issues, where men are better at the hobnobbing.’’

Joseph believes that women are also at a disadvantage in business reporting. 'Businessmen in India are just not comfortable speaking with women reporters.’’

The trend of women outnumbering men in the newsroom is a phenomenon that is also confined to the metropolises, the elitist English-language dailies and the electronic media.

‘’Even within the Indian vernacular media (which has been growing at rapidly the expense of the English-language broadsheets) the situation for women is anything but rosy,’’ said Joseph.

The proliferation of television channels, including news channels, in different parts of the country has led to a tremendous increase in job opportunities for women, said Joseph. But she added: ‘’Very little is known about the employment patterns, pay structures, conditions of work, job assignments especially in the relatively small, regional operations. Anecdotal evidence suggests that both pay scales and working conditions are not what they should be.’’

A survey recently conducted in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for the global report on women in news media to be brought out later this year by the U.S.- based International Women's Media Foundation revealed that it is very difficult to get information about human resources management policies and practices from media houses in this part of the world, including India.

'Working conditions are far tougher in the smaller cities and towns, where women typically stick to soft beats,’’ agreed Philipose.

Renu Agal, a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corp in New Delhi, added that women in the smaller towns are also 'rarely career-oriented and sooner or later succumb to the pressures of family and home.’’

To some extent, this also holds true in metropolitan settings and may be one reason why very few women make it down the last mile to the editor’s chair.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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