The Road to Resilience: Gender and Media
WOMEN’S RIGHTS: ON THE LINE
Women journalists across South Asia battle a range of issues, from obstacles in recruitment; discrimination in assignments at the workplace; sexual harassment; poor avenues for promotion and career advancement and inadequate provisions for family and child care. Despite these constraints, women journalists have been at the forefront of covering con ict in the region; unearthing corruption and malpractices; highlighting stories on environmental degradation; displacement of villagers due to development projects; health, malnutrition, security, politics and many more.
While reporters are the most visible of all journalists and their work attracts public attention, a large number of media workers who produce news and distribute it are women. Often rendered faceless and invisible, the presence of women in news production and the grim realities of the dangers they also face were brought home in the Taliban’s suicide car bombing of the bus carrying Tolo TV staff on January 20, 2016 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Of the seven media workers killed, four were women. Women comprised a substantial number of the 26 staffers of Tolo TV’s Kaboora Production house, which produces local programming including television commercials for private and government clients, who were injured in the attack.
The attack came in the wake of another reprehensible attack by the Taliban on the offices of Roshani Radio and TV in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan on September 28, 2015, destroying most of its equipment. The Taliban had issued a threat to both Roshani Radio and Tolo TV in October 2015 for their coverage of the Taliban invasion of Kunduz.
While the turmoil in Afghanistan has left women journalists more insecure, women journalists in other countries in Asia face other challenges. The definitive study ‘Inside the News: Challenges and Aspirations of Women Journalists in Asia and the Paci c, conducted by UNESCO, UN Women and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and released in June 2015, underscores that, in many countries across Asia and the Paci c, while women media professionals have increased their number in the newsrooms, they still represent only three out of ten news staff. Besides, the majority earns less than their male counterparts, while struggling to reach decision-making positions.
The new study highlights the impact of gender inequality on the lives and work of journalists in the region, with case studies drawn from the personal accounts of media professionals in Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu. Its recommendations included the adoption of affirmative employment strategies by media organisations, family-friendly work conditions, a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, gender sensitive code of ethics and gender perspective training for staff. In addition, the IFJ recommendations urged journalists’ unions to increase representation of women and create a checklist for union action on gender equity while government and civil society initiatives were necessary to implement laws and policies on gender equity.
The IFJ held the SAMSN gender network meeting with gender representatives from each of the SAMSN countries coming together to discuss challenges and develop strategies for the coming year and culminated with the regional launch of Inside the News recommendations on July 27, 2015.
GENDER SNAPSHOTS IN 2015-16
The heinous attacks on the media underscore the violence in Afghanistan and the manner in which women journalists bear the brunt of everyday hostilities.
The attack on staff of Tolo TV left four women and three male media workers dead on January 20, 2016 in Kabul. Women comprised a substantial number of the 26 staffers who were injured in the attack on a bus transporting employees of Tolo TV’s Kaboora Production company, which produces local programming including television commercials for private and government clients.
The attack came in the wake of another reprehensible attack by the Taliban on the of ces of Roshani Radio and TV in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan on September 28, 2015, destroying most of its equipment. The Taliban had issued a threat to both Roshani Radio and Tolo TV for their coverage of the Taliban invasion of Kunduz.
Roshani Radio and TV, an independent media outlet founded by Sediqa Shirzai in 2008, covered women issues and nine of its 12 employees are women. Roshani Radio began operations on February 20, 2008 independently in Kunduz province and broadcast educational and informative programs mainly for women and girls. In 2015, it obtained the expertise to establish television and video broadcasting and had barely begun trial video broadcasting for 2 months when the Taliban captured Kunduz province on September 28th 2015. “They used our radio TV station as [a] trench. After that, they started to burn it but they couldn’t and they looted all assets and equipment and destroyed them,” said Sediqa Shirzai in an email communication. Shirzai has appealed for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the radio and television station.
According to an independent study by the Social and Cultural Organisation (SCO) the weak presence of women affects the quality and effectiveness of media work. SCO head Masouma Mohammadi presented the ndings of the study at a gathering titled “Women journalists as preservers of justice and equality” in Kabul in August 2015. The study revealed that a major problem women journalists faced was the high level of violence against them with the level of violence higher in Kabul than Balkh province. According to Masouma Mohammadi, common people and security officials were to blame for this but in Mazar-i-Sharif, it was families who inflicted more violence on women journalists.
The study, which focused on 150 journalists and 15 of cials of media outlets in Kabul and Balkh, found that since the beginning of the year, more than 100 cases of violence against female journalists have been registered in these provinces. The cases include verbal abuse, threats, physical violence, sexual harassment and beatings. Of the incidents, 41 cases occurred outside the eld, as many in the eld and 17 cases at workplaces.
The study also found that gender discrimination still exists and 19.5 percent women journalists work without salaries or for as little as 3,000 Afghanis (USD 43) per month.
Soon after the spate of killings of atheist and secular bloggers Niloy Neel, Washiqur Babu and Avijit Roy by religious extremist groups, it became clear that women journalists were the next targets. In October 2015, the banned Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) sent an email to media houses threatening them with dire consequences if they continued to employ women. The email said: “Since the Islamic Sharia views working of women outside their homes without purdah as [a] punishable offense their employers are guilty to the same degree. We are urging the media to release their women from their jobs.” The email (firstname.lastname@example.org), was sent from the head of ce, Chittagong, Bangladesh, signed by Abdullah Bin Selim, who claimed to be the publicity coordinator of the ABT.
The out t also warned against publishing any negative report on Jihadi activities, threatening the media that none of them would be spared. “From now on, our instruction is the law and if you [the media] do not follow the way of Islam, the outcome will be dreadful. The towering building will come crumbling down to the ground and your heads to the feet of the soldiers of Islam,” the email reads.
The threats have affected women journalists and impaired their sense of security. In a statement condemning the threats, the IFJ said that women journalists faced endless challenges in Bangladesh, these threats act to further jeopardize their safety in the industry. Immediate and strong action needs to be taken by the government, media organisations, unions and the media community to guarantee the safety of women journalists. ABT continues to threaten and attack Bangladesh’s media community and it needs to end now.”
While women journalists in India battled a gamut of issues – dealing with online abuse, sexual harassment and ghting court cases on termination of services, the dangerous nexus between vigilante groups and police resulted in the hounding of a woman journalist working in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh state in Central India, where an ongoing bloody con ict between security forces and insurgent groups resulted in arbitrary arrests of journalists.
The intimidation of Malini Subramaniam, local journalists and lawyers drew widespread condemnation. A team from the Editors Guild of India that visited Bastar to investigate the intimidation of journalists and the curbing of press freedom concluded that the media in Chhattisgarh was working under tremendous pressure.
While online abuse is being tackled separately in Section II of this report, it is important to draw attention to the increasing instances of sexual harassment at the workplace, some of which still go underreported. Even in cases that were widely reported and became infamous due to the prominent personalities involved, media coverage was skewed and questionable.
In the complaint lodged against Tehelka owner-editor Tarun Tejpal in 2013, the trial is yet to commence. On May 15, 2015, the Supreme Court granted a year’s extension to the trial court in Goa to conduct the trial, though it had earlier directed that a speedy trial be held. At least 153 witnesses will be examined during the trial. While Tejpal is out on bail, curiously, in March 2016, the widely circulated tabloid Mumbai Mirror, carried a lengthy report that the trial was being delayed but the ‘victim’ had gone on to use the time to write a book about her experience. The complainant’s protest letter to the newspaper that the report was one-sided and error-ridden was not published.
In another case, two women journalists of Herald Cable Network (HCN) lodged First Information Reports (FIRs) against Rupesh Samant, Senior Principal Correspondent of PTI news agency in Goa. They alleged that he stalked them and sent them vulgar text messages and made sexual advances. The news channel shared its office space with PTI and Samant was working for both HCN and PTI. Samant was arrested in September 2015 but released on bail. According to local journalists, Samant had harassed other journalists too but they did not come forward for fear of his considerable influence amongst political and administrative circles. Members of the Network of Women in Media, India, wrote to the members of the PTI Board to seek action against Samant but the PTI management said it was monitoring the police case closely but could not take action against Samant since the victim- complainants belonged to another media company!
In January 2016, a New Delhi-based woman journalist employed with Assam Talks, a news channel based in Guwahati, Assam, led a complaint of sexual assault and sexual abuse against two senior journalists. She alleged that the channel’s editor-in-chief, Atanu Bhuyan, tried to force her to sleep with an Assamese political leader when he visited a Delhi hotel.
The complainant, in a separate charge against the second accused, Luit Neil Don, the Delhi correspondent of News Live, a Guwahati-based news channel, alleged that he had coerced her into a relationship under the false pretext of a job and marriage. An FIR under Sections 376/354/509/34 of the IPC was lodged in Rajouri Garden Police Station, Delhi. Bhuyan managed to secure anticipatory bail.
For some women, traumatized by the experience of sexual harassment, getting over the ordeal and speaking out takes time. Also, taking a legal recourse is not immediately possible. But, as a photojournalist who spoke out after three years discovered, support and action is possible if enough people speak out and condemn the incidents of sexual harassment. When Emaho magazine appointed an internal committee on sexual harassment, she took to social media to report sexual harassment by the founder-editor of Emaho, Manik Katyal. In November 2015, she detailed the experience in her blog post:
“I managed to stop him after a while and left his place. Later on whenever I thought about it I felt disgusted. I knew something was wrong about all of that. Then I was enlightened by the concept of “CONSENT” and structures of sexual harassment and gender oppression. All of this came back to me with a critical understanding as I saw Emaho has now created a committee to prevent Discrimination and Sexual Harassment. The hypocrisy of all of it is just too much and I have also got to know that fact that he has done this shit to a lot of women. I was not the only person. It just pissed me off and I decided to share my experience.
A Facebook page with the hashtag #Boycott Manik Katyal and a blog #Iwasharassedbymanikkatyal resulted in 20 women photographers across the world writing in to share their experiences of the verbal and physical harassment they faced from Katyal. Finally, co-directors of the global ‘Jest another photo festival’ decided that Katyal would step down from his post.
While the indictment and action was prompt and sharp in the Emaho case, the courageous rural reporters of Khabar Lahariya had to confront not just a persistent intimidation of harassment of a stalker but a misogynistic and apathetic police force. Khabar Lahariya, the pioneering news network managed by a collective of rural women journalists, has made a mark for its work in the backward Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh.
In January 2015, six members of the Khabar Lahariya team were harassed through phone calls from a man using numerous phone numbers. The caller, who identified himself as Nishu, refused to stop calling despite repeated requests. Nishu threatened, intimidated and stalked the Khabar Lahariya reporters over three months. Police complaints yielded no results.
On September 14, 2015, the shocking account of the prolonged harassment and stalking was written for an online magazine, The Ladies Finger, sparking a furore: “He always knew where we were, what we were doing. Rama stopped answering the phone when she was riding the bus home. He could be sitting on the row behind her, she said, and then he would know what she looked like….He’d call me at night, and I’d be able to hear a blue lm in the background. Talk dirty to me, he’d say…else I’ll have you kidnapped and raped, many times over. Wherever you hide, I’ll find you. You and everyone in your team. I’ll take your journalism and shove it up your ass.”
The manner in which police dismissed the complaints was chilling: “My phone was ringing, and I said, see, he’s calling right now. One cop took the phone from me and started chatting with Nishu. It seemed like such fun that another cop had to have a go too. My phone went round to each cop in the station. When they were done, and I said I wanted to file my FIR against this man, the SI said I should just switch my phone off if I didn’t want to talk to him”.
While the story was tweeted and shared on Facebook, members of the Network of Women in Media, India, issued a strong statement condemning the harassment and the police inaction. On the back foot with the tremendous response generated on social media, the UP Government issued directives for the police to take immediate action. Finally, two days after the Ladies Finger report, on September 16, the culprit was caught and arrested.
In Nepal, while more and more women are joining journalism, efforts must be stepped up to retain them and enable them to stay on in the profession. The participation of women in the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) has touched 16 percent, up from ten percent before the People’s Movement of 2006. According to the FNJ, 1613 of its 10,077 members are women. Speaking at a gender sensitization training programme organized by the FNJ in Chitwan in February 2016, the Chairman of the Press Council Nepal, Borna Bahadur Karki, said that the Council had decided to formulate a policy to increase women’s participation in media houses.
While the number of women in the media in Pakistan is steadily increasing, prevalent social attitudes and biases are still a huge obstacle. According to a report in Dawn, women work in all levels of the profession and cover rallies and demonstrations too, apart from holding managerial positions in a few media outlets (there are around 250 news publications, 170 FM radio stations and 30 television channels in Pakistan). The experiences of women in online media are detailed in Section II.
As a follow up to the research study on media and gender in the Asia-Pacific, the Country Report ‘Media and Gender in Sri Lanka’ was launched on July 26, 2015. It emphasized the need to achieve radical reforms to bring more women journalists in Sri Lanka to decision-making levels and enhance the quality of their contribution to the eld. For the first time in Sri Lanka, the research indicated a sizeable percentage of women who have known of or experienced sexual harassment in their workplace. Besides, less than 10 percent of women were present in top level management positions.
The release of the country report followed a series of trainings held for local journalists and from the South Asian region, organized by the International Federation of Journalists and South Asia Media and Solidarity Network (SAMSN). Journalists from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal participated in the training sessions.
The recommendations of the report also seek to influence systemic changes within the Sri Lankan media industry, both in policy and practice, through effective advocacy and training at different levels and to work towards inclusivity and equity in the island’s media.
Speaking at the launch of the report on July 29, Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Researcher and content analyst for Sri Lanka and Co-Convener for South Asian Women in Media – Sri Lanka Chapter, said that a majority of women who have achieved top positions were English language journalists and this indicated that most newsrooms, especially the vernacular language media, still found it difficult to accommodate women at the top slots. “Even then, it is a mere handful of women who reach the top,” said Handunnetti.
“Barring that exception, the male dominated industry had male-centred mechanisms making it difficult for women to navigate. The systems were naturally less accommodating of women and did not consider it an industry necessity, given that more and more women were anyway entering the industry and increasing in numbers,” she emphasized, speaking of the reality not merely in Sri Lanka, but throughout South Asia.