Gender Parity Has a Long Way to Go in Odisha Media

When it comes to the portrayal of women, the media in Odisha has certainly come a long way in the last couple of decades. There is a lot more sensitivity in reporting issues related to women these days than there ever was. Gone are the days when rape cases would be reported – complete with all personal details of the victim (including her photograph at times) – in all its salacious details to titillate the reader rather than create revulsion in him. Cases of atrocities against women now have a greater chance of making it to the front page – or the top of the news bulletin – than it did earlier. Success stories of women are now standard fare in almost all media outlets.

Does that mean the media has become more gender sensitive? No way, I would say. Just scratch the surface and you will find that the desire to see women as objects and to titillate the reader/viewer remains as strong as ever, but is often masked as concern for the victim. One just has to recall the absurd lengths and abominable depths that the media – especially of the electronic variety – stoops to every time there is an allegation of ‘casting couch’ or sexual exploitation. The haranguing of victims of rape or sexual exploitation by lawyers inside court rooms may have been barred by law. But there is no law to stop the persistent anchor – more often than not a man – from subjecting the victim to the worst kind of harangue. Masking/blurring of the victim’s face cannot mask the vicarious pleasure that mainstream TV media draws from such disgusting conduct.

Like every other field, the media still remains an essentially male bastion though the presence of a large number of women/girls may suggest otherwise. True, there are many more women journalists now than there were, say, 30 years ago. But what is generally lost sight of while making such generalizations is the fact that the overwhelming majority of them (upwards of 80%, I would guess) are based in Bhubaneswar, the media capital of the state. Look for women journalists at the district, sub division or block level and the numbers can perhaps be counted on fingertips. Just try recalling a woman reporter with a boom on hand at the district level and you will realize what I mean.

Even within Bhubaneswar, the vast majority of women journalists are concentrated in four distinct areas: the copy writing/editing desk, the features section, reporters on ‘soft’ beats and anchors. There are certain ‘No-Go’ areas for women; politics, crime and violence. At a time when women journalists like Barkha Dutt have blazed a new trail reporting from the battlefield, this rather condescending desire of editors and owners to ‘protect’ their women journalists is cringe worthy. The belief that women are good enough only for ‘soft’ stories like art and culture, women’s issues and interviews with celebrities does gross injustice to women scribes who have put their life on the line reporting wars and riots.

Owners and Editors have no qualms admitting that anchors are chosen more for the ‘glamour quotient’ than their journalistic abilities. Why should this be so is beyond the comprehension of this columnist. Is a man – or a woman – watching news on TV more likely to remain glued to the channel if there is a good looking and glamorous but rather dumb girl who fluffs her lines or asks ridiculous questions to the reporter on the ground? Besides, with every channel following the same rule, how does one anchor/channel score over others? Of course, there are a handful of women anchors, who are both ‘presentable’ and good journalists. But they are more an exception than the rule.

Nothing, however, proves the male dominance in the media than the near-total absence of women as Editors or – at the very least – in senior positions where editorial decisions are taken. This is true even of organisations headed by women.

Gender parity clearly has a long way to go in the Odia media. It is perhaps time our media starts practicing what it preaches to the rest of the world.

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