Ranjona Banerji: Time to stand together against despicable targeting of women journos

18 Sep,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

There is a despicable Whatsapp forward doing the rounds about women journalists at NDTV, naming them and outlining how many times they have been married, how they have “trapped” men and how they are carrying on “illicit affairs”. The message ends with the “witticism”: Is this NDTV or Shaadi.com”, a reference to a popular marriage website.

 

It does not matter whether the allegations or “facts” are correct or not. What is worrying is the snide venom that is behind this particular message and such messages in general. Women remain easy targets on social media and women in journalism even easier. The easiest way to attack is of course by sexual innuendo because then it reduces women to one aspect of their existence: their genitalia and/or their reproductive uses.

This is a classic male, patriarchal response to successful women or women who appear to be successful. And NDTV is the particular target of a certain mindset. Although there are female editors, anchors and reporters in every television newsroom, across languages, in India, NDTV bears the brunt of social media anger.

The most obvious reason is that the channel has long been perceived as pro-Congress Party. This apparently is reason enough for any amount of targeted viciousness. Interestingly, the men in the channel do not bear the brunt of this social media anger. In fact, NDTV founder Dr Prannoy Roy remains one of the most respected names in Indian television, as he well deserves to be. But the women he employs apparently all paid Congress agents and sexual predators. The anger against NDTV, especially amongst the Indian rightwing and supporters of the BJP-RSS, is so extreme that a few months ago Union finance minister Arun Jaitley was attacked just for being interviewed by Barkha Dutt. The irony of Jaitley being part of the BJP and a vital part of this government was completely lost on his attackers.

But is Indian journalism’s worst sin the sexcapades of female journalists? Let’s see. We continue to deal with the problem of paid media, which specifically refers to media house managements selling editorial space to political parties with or without the knowledge of editors. Then we have the deals with businesses. Almost every newsroom has a list of industrialists who are untouchable. Media gossip says that Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria had to be transferred out because he was getting too close to the Mukerjea-9X money trail. Then there is the problem of political affiliations impinging on free reporting and analysis.

One of the biggest unspoken problem in newsrooms, regardless of the sexual harassment case against Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal, is that of predatory male editors and junior staff, usually female. Most newsrooms have not followed the Supreme Court’s Vishakha guidelines or if they have implemented them, scant attention is paid to them. Innumerable horror stories continue to emerge. But do tell, how many Whatsapp messages have you seen about these incidents?

Online trolling of women journalists, often by their male colleague or peers continues. Many of these trolls are well-known names hiding behind anonymous handles. Yet most women journalists would rather follow the law or are squeamish – which is why their names are not made public. Men, as we see everyday, have no such scruples.

The torment that the women journalists of the Hindi newspaper Khabar Lahariya have suffered for most of 2015 by a persistent stalker and the apathy of the UP police was discussed in my last column. Apparently, some progress is being made in that case now that the problem has been made public.

It is time for women and men in journalism to stand together. This sort of targeting of prominent women journalists needs outright condemnation. You do not have to be admirers of their journalistic skills. You just have to know that targeting them for being female is unacceptable.

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Time to stand together against despicable targeting of women journos”

  1. ashok759 says:

    Not an ideal solution, for we do not inhabit a perfect planet, but developing the hide of a rhino would be one option. There are so many sick minds inhabiting cyberspace, kis kis ko rokenge ya tokenge ?

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