How safe are women in news media?

20 Dec,2012

 

By Ananya Saha

 

A recent incident when an Aaj Tak reporter was sexually harassed while reporting for a story raises concerns about women working in the media industry. We spoke to a few of them to know how they feel, and what have they been through.

 

The number of working women is increasing, and so is the number of them working long hours. Journalists usually have to work late nights. While the work itself is not a cause for complaint, safety is a concern for most women journalists. In the wake of a rape case, a reporter was teased by a group of men (in a car) while reporting! Who is to be blamed for it? And how can the companies make them feel safer? There is hardly a woman in media who does not have a story to share about feeling unsafe or harassed. While stringent company policies have made offices a better place, while reporting or while stepping out of office, at least Delhi women have had a bad experience.

 

The names in the story have been changed, on request.

 

 

MxM View

 

Write to us an editor@mxmindia.com if your newsroom is not taking good care of women employees

 

MxMIndia has a clear view on the issue of the safety towards women in the news media. The people who run the newsrooms – owners, CxOs, editors, team leaders, and commentators — must ensure that we provide for the safety of our women colleagues. We know that the world outside our offices – including our public transport — is unsafe. We also know that expecting people around to protect women is too much to ask as we discovered when a senior news journalist was mute witness to an excess on a Mumbai local train.

 

So, while it’s good to see the news media playing up the Delhi gangrape story, it’s critical that stiff laws are created. Our newsrooms must work towards taking care of the staff as they work odd hours.

 

If you think your newsroom or that of a friend is not taking good care of its women employees, write to us ateditor@mxmindia.com. While we don’t guarantee a solution, we will take it up the bosses of the news media entity to ensure a better, safer world.

 

- Pradyuman Maheshwari

Editor-in-Chief and CEO, MxMIndia

 

Sakshi Bhasin, a television journalist who works in Noida does not feel safe in Delhi. “There was an instance when at about 10.30pm, which is my usual time for leaving office, I stepped out to board my office cab only to find a car passing by in which the ‘men’ passed a comment ‘we’ll drop you home’. Not in the genuine sense of course!’ But as soon as they found I had a male colleague with me, they quickly drove past. I spoke to my HR head about the incident and she suggested sending a guard with me if I needed. I joked that rather than having two guys at that time of night in my cab (the second one being the driver), I’d rather go alone. Although it was a joke, it is sad that even professional women like me are fighting with the male psyche everywhere.”

 

Kolkata-born Sumitra Bose who currently works in Delhi said, “Safety is always a concern when leaving in the late hours. Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg is a place where all the major newspaper offices are located, there is a police patrol van also deployed in the area but the walk till the metro station is filled with notorious elements and no one has been able to a thing about it. You cannot stand on the road to hail an auto rickshaw without having some bikers or hooligans pass a comment or two as you stand there, right under the nose of a police van. The underbridge that one has to cross, for instance, is replete with drunkards, homeless, beggars, and it has space enough to only walk to in a single file. There isn’t even a proper road.” However, she feels safe once aboard the metro.

 

About the HR policies of her organisation, she said, “In my organisation there is a cell for women to complain for sexual harassment, and also like most other newspapers, they provide a drop facility after 10pm with a male escort. But if you are leaving at 9, then they probably think it is safe enough!”

 

 

From the women on the MxMIndia team

 

Ritu Midha

As a media journalist you interact with a certain set of people – and in my off and on innings here I have not really faced any issues with the people I have interacted with.

 

Commuting in Mumbai too has never been a problem – even with two cub female journalists in tow – I have, in the past, travelled from Bandra to Navi Mumbai in the middle of the night and even later. Having said that, bus travel has been minimum – and cabs are safer in Mumbai anyway.

 

As for MXM India, it is a small team, and there is no question of things going wrong. A happy family. A comfortable place to be yourself! Having said that, to say that Mumbai corporate life does not have its fair share of ’embarrassing’. incidents would be a sham. Women employees do give up their jobs for being eyed and invited.

 

However, in comparison to Delhi – it is a much better place to work for women in media I guess. As a journalism student in Delhi many years back, I do remember walking to the stop where bus initiated and got down two stops ahead to avoid the ‘rush’.  And also that in a posh South Delhi women’s hostel criteria for getting the room was taking the manager out for a movie!

 

Sad part is we keep quiet, tell our youngsters to ignore (I too have advised one of my journalists to walk away from a drunk guy, instead of slapping him on his face), and society keeps getting sicker and sicker. Sometimes I wonder what kind of journalists we really are.

 

Tuhina Anand

Late night shifts or covering an event late night for female journalists is riddled with many issues. While the job profile requires one to attend events late night but traveling alone certainly is not advised. So you have to make arrangements to see that there is somebody to escort if the event finishes really late at night. I have done this as part of Delhi Times where you ended up covering events that ended late night or even at occasion left office late as filing stories took time. But never could I think of taking public transport or driving back alone hence had to look for someone to accompany which actually is such a pain as you are disturbing the peace of others too at some unholy hour. We have to accept that despite all talk of gender equality our work place and society is not women friendly especially not sensitive to late working hours for women.

 

What can be done? I don’t really know because even if we take measures to make the work place environment conducive for working women, what can you do of rogues who are waiting on the streets to catch their next prey?

 

Vidya Heble

I’ve worked all shifts as a desk journalist in Mumbai and, touch wood, never had a problem going home from work at any time. Nevertheless, I take the usual precautions, such as keeping to better-lit parts in public, avoiding dark paths, and travelling in the ladies compartment of the local train which is nearest to the motorman’s cabin. There is a policeman stationed in the compartment, but in case of any problem I feel assured that I can lean out and call the motorman for help. So far, however, I have never had a problem even when I have caught the penultimate train to my destination 35 km away, and then taken an autorickshaw from the station. In general, I feel safer in BEST buses and the local trains, rather than in taxis and autorickshaws.

 

But this is Mumbai. In Delhi, I would not dream of going anywhere. At all. My several visits to Delhi have left me very wary of the men in that city.

 

I also did not face harassment at the workplace in Mumbai.

 

But I’ve worked earlier in Goa, and it is a very different cup of tea. There was harassment there, both at the workplace as well as in public transport and public places. It’s a great place to live in but not to work!

 

Ananya Saha

I have had the opportunity to work in Delhi and Mumbai. And of course there is a stark difference of how both cities treat their women. Yes, we do feel safe when inside office or home, but the travelling alone to home or office never comes without concern. Since I work from home, I do not face the daily travelling ordeal but if travelling for work, by auto or cab, I always take down the vehicle number before boarding.

 

While company policies have been stringent at most media houses, I know of a girl who was harassed by a male colleague. While she was asked to keep mum, she approached the proprietor of the company. The senior management protected him and he was let off after a warning. She quit after few months.

 

I know of media organisations who do not even have ‘cab facilities’ for females who get late at work and some of them do not make sure if female colleagues is dropped first. While we wish to be independent, financially, I think it will take a long time to be truly independent. At least in Delhi.

 

Stuti Bhattacharya has reported from various cities across India. She said that she felt the most unsafe in Delhi. “I have worked in all urban cities in India. Even returning home at 11pm in Hyderabad was safer than retuning from work at 9pm in Delhi. “Since I work for a newspaper, our shift usually ends pretty late around 8-9pm. I have had an incident while leaving office. I was accosted by a drunkard whom I pepper-sprayed. Then, I complained to the Police and Women Cell that resulted in patrolling of PCR vans for next two days. But today, it is back to square one. I prefer travelling with fellow colleagues for sense of security. I prefer travelling by metro, since it has separate coach for females, than travelling by auto or bus.” She feels that following any untoward incident involving a woman, the government blames the company or the individual. “It is the responsibility of the government to make us feel safe,” she opined.

 

Megha Ghose, television producer with a leading news channel in Mumbai, was once stalked by a colleague for more than two weeks. She then made a police complaint, and the colleague was asked to leave the organisation. “What is strange is that he found a job the very next day at the competitors’ channel, who also knew about the whole episode. I wish it was not so easy for him,” she said.

 

Kolkata-based magazine journalist Saroni Roy said that while she has not had any untoward incident at work, “I have to keep my family informed about where I am going for my assignment. Mostly, I travel by my own car and not the official cab. Who can you trust anyway? Company policies do not matter since your safety is your own concern.”

 

Monica Kapur, a web journalist in Delhi said, “For most events that I cover, I get cab facility but still it does not make me feel safe. We have rotational shifts. Once I got free at 2am, and was driving back when another car started following me. I took a U-turn and went back to the office at 3 am.” Delhi-based TV Journalist Neha Bhasin said, “As a female journalist, I feel insecure if I work late at night and have to make my way to home on my own. I try and ensure that an office vehicle drops me home if I work beyond 10pm. However, at times when I drive to work, I need to drive back instead of using office vehicles and at such times I feel vulnerable. Thankfully I haven’t had to face a situation where I have felt threatened but the thought is always there at the back of my mind. I worry constantly if I will make it safely back home. Living in the capital city, it’s shameful that such a basic right – safety for women – is not ensured.”

 

While women journalists struggle with the not-so-safe environment, Advocate Rekha Aggarwal, Supreme Court and Delhi High Court, told MxM India that there are no special privileges to protect the women working late hours. “It is not only media, but look at other professions where women work late. It is up to the companies to make such provisions for the safety of female staff. They have arranged cabs with male guards to drop female staff. But then I am not sure how safe it would make them. Yes, they can have special privileges such as regulated working hours where females are not allowed to stay in office beyond the said time, ‘work-from-home’ option for them. However, this should not come at a cost of lesser pay or lesser opportunities at work. But this would be a totally utopian situation. And I am not sure if we are ready for it. Not only the government, it is important that companies protect women employees.”

 

Ensuring the safety of women in the supposedly egalitarian urban Indian society is a 360-degree issue. Everyone plays a part: employers, law-enforcers, infrastructure providers and the woman herself. Still, it is a long way before the Utopia of true safety can be achieved.

 

Look out for Part 2 of our report on how safe are women in the rest of the media – advertising, marketing, experential media, public relations and non-journalists in the news media. If you wish to share an experience here, write to editor@mxmindia.com

 

Image: Rafiq

 

Post a Comment 

One response to “How safe are women in news media?”

  1. LM says:

    Since the Right to Vote has resulted in incompetent governments, our democracy must now allow us The Right to Thrash Publicly the offenders. It would be immensely gratifying for us women to watch as well as participate by taking a whip to the offender (in a public arena designated for this purpose) in every city. Some examples need to be set; law enforcement is ineffective. There is not a single city in this country that has been able to enforce the law without prejudice and corruption. But then this again is just added to my Wish List.

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