Women TV Journalists Break Gender Stereotypes in The World of Media

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Lights! Camera! Roll! A young camera person focuses the lens on an attractive actress who is very much in the news. As the subject sits cross-legged under the klieg lights, waiting to be interviewed by the anchor, a group of young professionals stand by for the shoot to begin. Once the camera rolls, the anchor begins a gentle questioning with a gracious smile. After the recording is done, it’s a mad rush to get the footage edited and readied for the telecast.

Women make it a special scenario that the camera person, the production persons, the anchor, the producer and the editor of this programme want to telecast by a prominent network.

Women are increasingly making their presence felt as media professionals is well known. Data generated by the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 (GMMP 2010), which had scanned 1,365 newspapers, television and radio stations and Internet news sites across the world, has revealed that female reporters are responsible for 37 per cent of stories compared to 28 per cent 15 years ago.

Less documented is the fact that over the last decade, it is television that has emerged as the most sought after medium for young women media professionals fresh out of journalism school. They enter the field with stars in their eyes. Undoubtedly, the glamour quotient of television is a major draw, but there is more to it than that. The fact remains that the proliferation of 24-hour television news channels has transformed the media scenario radically from the days when the state-run Doordarshan was the only show in town. News television today has unassailably overtaken print journalism at two levels: One, in terms of its ability to disseminate information faster and, two, in terms of sheer reach and pervasiveness.

This is why, long after the glamour factor of news television has worn thin, women in news television remain committed to their chosen field. This, despite the punishing pace and tough working conditions. These women are more than willing to work into the wee hours of the morning; don’t think twice about putting marriage plans on hold indefinitely; and are quite prepared to sacrifice their social life, given the pressures of prime time.

As Kumkum Binwal, a producer with Total TV, eloquently puts it, “I don’t remember when I last spoke to my former colleagues in my earlier office. My personal life has taken a total backseat. For me, life is just about news breaks, interviews, soundbites and editing.”

But would she ever exchange this for the more sedate pace of print journalism? Replies Binwal firmly, “No. I was meant for television. For me, chasing news with a camera is very exciting and gives me a lot of satisfaction.” In fact, it has also given her self confidence and emboldened her in her interactions with all kinds of people. “I have been trained to treat a criminal just as I would a perfumed celebrity on my programme. In this field, you have to be prepared to interact with just about anyone,” she says.

Of course, Binwal is also the first to admit that her personal life has suffered a great deal because of the endless working hours the job entails. “I wonder what I will do after marriage? The timings are so unpredictable, you never know when you will finally make it back home,” she observes ruefully.

Archana, who is an anchor with India News, echoes Binwal. “At 27, I find I just have no time to socialise and cannot even think of marriage, given the long hours. I am responsible for news bulletins and the deadline pressure is immense. This is the kind of work that you cannot drop midway. You just have to complete the responsibilities you have before you pack up for the day – or night.”

Having been in news television for more than five years, Archana has decided that once she gets married she will opt out and set up her own production house. “That way, I will be able to call the shots,” she smiles. But she is also clear that she would not like to marry a journalist because there would be far too many “ego clashes”.

Dolly Joshi of Focus TV, a recent entrant into the field of television news journalism, is very excited about her chosen profession and looks forward to reaching office every morning and beginning yet another day of news gathering. She laughs as she recounts her first day at work, “I was so nervous and so focused on getting things right that I messed up the whole shoot!”

Like Binwal and Archana, Joshi has quickly realised that the job demands her total involvement and that marriage is a strict no-no. She has also learnt how important it is to be mentally tough. She says, “One has to be prepared to face opposition, even attacks.”

Joshi has now learnt to read situations more clearly and has discovered that a little diplomacy and caution can go a long way, “I find one has to be very careful about handling the people you are interviewing, especially men. You have to very prudent and cautious because you easily can get misunderstood.” At the same time, as a television news journalist, she knows she can’t let the important questions remain unanswered. “People turn nasty when asked tough questions. Which doesn’t mean that you don’t ask them those questions. One has to rise to such challenges and carry on with courage and determination,” she adds.

These are television news women professionals on the learning curve, but are they making a difference? According to the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 data, women media persons are helping to break stereotypes. Stories filed by female reporters are twice as likely to challenge gender stereotypes as those filed by their male counterparts.

The challenges remain, however, especially that of biases and discrimination. Binwal observes that her male colleagues always seem to get with the creamier assignments and end up being better appreciated by the boss. “You would have thought that an emerging profession like news journalism would be relatively free of such gender biases, but that is really not the case,” she says.

Despite some prominent women journalists having made their way into the highest echelons of news television, most women in the field have to be content with lesser profiles and doing the drudge work. And, as in most other professions, the glass ceiling looms large. But as more women enter the field, this too will become a thing of the past. At least that’s the hope.

Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the www.wfsnews.org website.