Women in journalism: only half the race is run

WOMEN JOURNALISTS IN INDIA — Swimming Against the Tide: R. Akhileshwari; The Women Press, 425, Nimri Colony, Ashok Vihar, Phase-IV, Delhi-110052. Rs. 1750.

WOMEN JOURNALISTS IN INDIA — Swimming Against the Tide: R. Akhileshwari; The Women Press, 425, Nimri Colony, Ashok Vihar, Phase-IV, Delhi-110052. Rs. 1750.

At a time when news consumption is at a never-before-seen high, and, in-your-face journalism the norm, a study on the status of women journalists is both relevant and necessary. Embarking on a detailed research and analysis is R Akhileshwari, a veteran woman journalist, who “ passed up a better-paid bank job in preference for a low-paying job in a newspaper determined to make a career in journalism…Three years later when I moved to Hyderabad and tried to find a job in journalism, I found that my two awards, one for investigative reporting and another for the best feature story and three years of experience as sub-editor/reporter were worthless since all the newspapers and news agencies had one woman reporter on the rolls, and the second one was seen as a burden. However, I managed to return to it eight years later.”

She went on to become a foreign correspondent, reporting from South Africa, Namibia, Russia, China, Europe, West Asia and South-East Asia. Supported by extensive data collection in her book, she states that although “feminisation” of newsrooms is happening, the balance of power is still in favour of males. Her broad-based research also looks at the disparate situation of women journalists in both the English and the non-English media.

The status of women The status of women and their empowerment has been a stated priority for at least half a century globally. There is general consensus that while there is progress in some areas, there are still many issues facing development of women. There are regional and sectoral differences and there are also imbalances that show up based on vocation.

Journalism is a field in India where women have made significant progress in the past few decades. Women reporters have covered wars and reported from the edge of calamitous events. They have become the face of many news channels and are even accepted in cricket reporting, for long a male bastion. Given the above, the author, explores and evaluates whether this transformation is complete or if there are gaps and imbalances.

Choosing Andhra Pradesh for her study and employing a very detailed and elaborate research methodology, the presenter seeks to evaluate the role and status of women journalists in India on 17 dimensions. By collecting quantitative data from a sample size of 133 respondents using a structured questionnaire and by carrying out in-depth interviews with over 105 professionals in the field, the book tries to arrive at conclusions on a wide range of subjects concerning women in journalism in Andhra Pradesh.

She has also extensively accessed researched the status and challenges of women in media in countries such as the U.S., Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Mozambique. She throws up interesting comparisons on not only the field of reporting assigned to male and female reporters, but also on the pay scale.

For example, she quotes Monika Djerf-Pierre’s report, ‘The Gender of Journalism” and says that even in Sweden — which has the narrowest gender disparity as per the World Economic Forum — journalism has been a male dominated one. Citing figures related under the BBC’s Freedom of Information Act, she says, “female journalists working on the BBC’s flagship television news bulletins earn Euro 6500 less than their male counterparts on average. The disclosure supports of claims of the existence of a glass ceiling for women journalists at the BBC.”

The author shows the transformation in the workforce since the 1960s, when women journalists were an exception. Today there are several women editors, columnists and television anchors. In the last decade, more women have entered the profession, and many have equal access to all beats, blurring the ‘traditional male area’ line considerably.

A significant factor in the author’s observation is the fact that while women in the English media hail from middle and upper middle class milieu and find the workplace evocative of their socio-cultural background, the same is not true of the press in other languages.

Scholarly approach Since the author has dwelt at length on the rise of the regional media, quoting annual National Readership Surveys extensively, one wishes the author had gone the entire mile and quoted a few journalists. If there is one thing lacking in the book, it is the human interface.

The nature of the subject and the type of treatment chosen indicates that this book would be scholarly and academic in nature. It is indeed more a work of serious research rather than an arm chair read. Some of the interesting questions raised and answered include the upward mobility of women in journalism, the diffusion of women within an organisation towards certain type of roles (features department has a far higher percentage of women than men), the sensitive issue of harassment at work place — not merely sexual harassment, but also the malaise of social-mongering that some colleagues indulge in, which harm a particular journalist’s career — and whether women are active in unions. The kind of data collected and analysed in the book could well serve personnel policy formulation of media companies.

Apart from the primary research, which is the main purpose of the book, there is a very extensive presentation of secondary data which explores the status and role of women in general from a global perspective. The care and effort put in to assemble such a vast amount of information is commendable and is likely to render this work as a guide and reference source for future endeavours.

Rendered in simple language and direct style, the focus in entirely on the subject matter.

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Printable version | Jun 28, 2022 7:46:06 am |