`Media travelling downhill'

GULF DREAMS Anita Pratap is doing her bit to create awareness about women's rights

GULF DREAMS Anita Pratap is doing her bit to create awareness about women's rights   | Photo Credit: Photo: mahesh harilal

Anita Pratap talks about the changes in Saudi Arabia, and the media in general, in a tete-a-tete with LEELA MENON

Anita Pratap, the illustrious journalist and author, is now into transforming the media scene in Saudi Arabia where her Norwegian husband, Arne Walther is the Secretary General of the International Energy Forum, which is a consortium of 64 countries. She currently writes columns in the Saudi Gazette and has been instrumental in introducing media reforms in Saudi Arabia. She has managed to generate awareness about women's right to education and job because, according to her, the present regime is receptive to changes. "Earlier women could not even open a bank account, they could not travel alone without a male escort or conduct business. The new King Abdulla is a man of the people who encourages liberal values and has even stopped the custom of kissing the Royal Hand. He tells them to do it to their parents. He is against corruption, red tape et al". This is a great stride forward, according to Anita as. Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal culture, with tribal feudal values. "I talk to the women, to the South Asia community and I also give career counselling to students and women". Anitha Pratap was Anitha Simon when she started journalism in Delhi in 1979. Today, she is a respected voice in international media. On a recent trip to Kochi where her parents live, she aired her views to The Hindu Metro Plus, on several issues. Q: You were the first Indian woman to become a TV journalist with the CNN. Do you think the TV scenario has changed? A: The scenario is completely different. I was taken by CNN because I was a good reporter. I was trained by CNN in Atlanta, given voice training, and taught how to report on camera. I was the South Asia bureau chief and was also the manager of the bureau, which involved management and finance for which I was given three weeks training in Bangkok. I covered the entire South Asia." Now high profile journalists are indulging in high drama. There is a clear invasion of privacy, especially in reporting tragedies and it is dehumanising and desensitising people as well as the subject. Everything is spectacle for the media now. They are degrading news. I also feel that they exert undue pressure on the Government as in a kidnap or hijack, continuously tracking it and asking what steps have been taken every few minutes, creating what is called the CNN effect. This forces governments to take short cuts and it can be dangerous. You cannot rush a commando operation and government has to ensure secrecy, which the media does not seem to understand. Pressure is needed in cases of corruption but not in kidnap or a hijack Q: You were the first woman reporter to report from the war scene and break or dissolve the taboo on women journalists to go into dangerous realms by covering the LTTE war and interviewing Tamil Tiger Prabhakaran. A: Yes, I was adventurous; I sensed a story and pursued it with courage. When I was with CNN I reported from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, wearing a purdah. Now women are into all sorts of reporting. Q: Do you think that there is erosion in media ethics? A: Media has no ethics now. The quality of journalism has deteriorated. Media is even part of the economic reforms now, with media telling the finance ministry how to make the budget and what should be its focus. It has indeed travelled downhill, without a sense of direction, value or ethics. News has been commodified and they don't seem to realise that news do influence people. Q: What do you say about the demand for voting rights for NRIs? A: Non-Resident Indians are already citizens of the country they migrated to . In the 1970s there was a brain drain because educated people from the upper class could not get good jobs due to the reservation clause and they were forced to seek jobs outside, creating what you call a brain drain. States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had 94 per cent reservation and students could not even get admission in colleges. But NRIs are no more Indian nationals. The only NRIs are in the Gulf region where they are not allowed to become nationals. Other NRIs are foreign nationals of Indian origin. Why should they have voting rights? What do they know about the Indian realities to suggest or influence changes? While their economic contribution is substantial, their political contribution cannot be effective or have any impact. They should not be given voting rights." Anita also feels that the media should promote development which means not just economic development but ecological and people friendly development.

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