In India, women make up little less than half of the population, and the representation of women is too far from it. They contribute to almost every sector of society, including government, business, journalism, and academia. Many of them are in decision-making positions as well. Yet, women are underrepresented.
The media, also known as the fourth pillar of democracy, advocates the universal equality of rights. Its representation of cases like Nirbhaya, Sabarimala, and Triple Talaq, among others, fuelled campaigns against the violation of the human rights of women.
Still, there is a need for media outlets to look at their backyard on the representation of women in media.
Mass media like films, TV soaps, and novels, among others, portray women as the second sex, the second-class citizens. They serve an ornamental function of damsel in distress in films, overly stereotyped and wicked personalities in soap operas, and fantasy heroines in romance novels. In this article, however, our focus will be on the representation of women in Indian news media.
The news media acts as a watchdog of public interest. However, the coverage of women-related issues and violence in Indian Media suggests that women are not part of the public to which it serves as a watchdog.
Representation of women in media
Newslaundry, a digital media platform, conducted research in collaboration with UN Women. The report throws light on the wide gender gap in Indian newsrooms.
It analyzed different Hindi and English mainstream media outlets, including newspapers, news channels, magazines, and digital media outlets.
Although half of the anchors in broadcast media are women, the report suggests that out of 100, women acquire only 15% of leadership positions, with less than 5% for newspapers, 14% for magazines, 21% for TV channels, and 27% for digital media platforms. Women write around 25% and 17% of news articles in English and Hindi media outlets.
Additionally, news organizations are hesitant to assign serious news beats like politics and finance, among others, to women journalists. They tend to give typical moments like entertainment, gossip, and celebrities, to women journalists. Men dominate the editorial rooms in Indian media.
During debates, mostly the panelists are men, and often the panel is all men-panel. Thus, women do not get ample space to voice their concerns. The media only covers gender concerns briefly. Less than 08% of coverage revolves around gender-related issues.
How does the media cover women?
The media tends to cover women’s issues and related crimes in a sensationalized, superficial, dramatic, and insensitive manner. The media often reveals the identities of victims of violence, which is against journalistic ethos.
The ideals reiterated during coverage tend to be influenced by middle-class ideas of roles and lives of women. The media has universalized the experiences of urban middle-class women as the experiences of all women in society.
The women in media are victimized. The media portray them as the cause of their sufferings, ignoring the prevalent misogyny in society, which further supports the status quo against women.
Although the media frequently reports issues like rapes, dowry deaths, trafficking, and female foeticide everywhere, the representation of these issues fails to generate serious debate. The coverage further adds to the propagation of existing stereotypes revolving around women.
Also, the discussion tends to be episodic rather than continuous to bring about a change in society. For example, the media covered the Hathras gangrape for 3-4 weeks. After that, it forgot a heinous crime occurred in Hathras, and there were no follow-up stories.
The discussion is superficial and doesn’t create an enduring debate on crimes against women, especially those from disadvantaged groups.
The Key- Representation
According to Ammu Joseph and Kalpana Sharma, the media’s portrayal of the world reflects the male perspective to a large extent. It leads to a distorted presentation of women, their lives, everyday interests and worries, and their viewpoints and ideas about society.
One can understand the insensitive coverage of gender issues and violence against women, partly because of an insufficient number of women journalists in Indian news media and partly due to the highly patriarchal nature of Indian society.
The press has a great potential to create a serious public discourse on gender discrimination. It cannot realize its potential as a public sphere for gender-related discourse in a patriarchal society like India unless it provides more space for women and women-related issues.
Further, the representation of women can be improved by increasing the number of women journalists and the coverage of problems about women.
BY SHREYA PANDEY