He said, She said

06 Aug,2020


By Shashidhar Nanjundaiah


The new National Education Policy (NEP) has stirred up a hornet’s nest among columnists who are busy parsing what it says more than what it doesn’t. The NEP is progressive, aiming to nurture independence of thought and decision. (I stress on “aiming to” because it was submitted by an eminent team of scientific tempered people, but in implementation, our government does have a suspected habit of appropriating institutions.) However, the NEP does little to instil specific forms of responsibility among young citizens. The responsibility towards gender mainstreaming is one such.


When I was invited last week to speak at a small but important webinar for a young, woke and socially conscious audience on gender discrimination against men, I spoke about why we need a balance that must be initiated by the media and other influential institutions. The media, in particular, is important because it is the very custodian of public communication. This institutional leadership is also needed to distinguish the media more exemplarily from the social media, whose users are largely less trained and so have a long way to go in communicating responsibly.



Our television anchors and reporters appear to be angry activists, as they sometimes should. But they either choose their activism selectively, or their inherent biases creep in periodically. Our media routinely says “protect our women” and “women’s empowerment” in the same breath. Consider when an anchor asked his guest, a famous sportswoman, “What are your marriage plans?” When she objected, he apologised, quickly realising the archetypal bias that we all suffer from.


Even where gender should not be an issue is an issue with our media, and so headlines such as “Woman techie caught for speeding in Audi car” (not a real headline) continue. Women achievers seem to be such an aberration to our media that in order to stay on course, it seems a hypercorrection is needed. Consider an angry-sounding anchor: “We need to believe harassment took place because she’s saying so. No woman would lie about such a thing.”


I blame this on media education, or lack thereof. Stereotypes are the most ironic form of gender illiteracy. And because mediapersons have largely been teaching themselves gender literacy from experience and informal discussions, there will be gaps. As broadcasters of not just information but of opinion, mediapersons have a special obligation, and there is a special need for their education in particularly tricky subjects such as gender education. The media must constantly bear in mind pressures of ratings. But in the process, content corners are cut into chewables. One of those corners is journalistic ethics—including gender mainstreaming.



Now, a lifelong student of mediated communication like me winces each time this happens, because we are trained to scrutinise the usage of terms and place them in sociological frameworks. But that’s just a handful of us, and mainstreaming the practice of gender-responsible communication in the media will also routinise its practice in society.


This would mean the media must take responsibility for media literacy among its readership and audiences in ways that do not impact their numbers game and yet manage to address their apparent guilt: For some reason, all but one or two channels claim that they are “news, not noise”. That’s guilty conscience talking.


Geert Hofstede’s seminal work in 1974 on cultural differences across the world found that much of South Asia scores very high on gender distance at workplaces.  Anecdotally, we will observe that post-MeToo communication between genders is more guarded and distant. Media coverage of the MeToo movement has made many women aware and conscious of their rights at the workplace better, and that counts for something. But it has left male professionals scared and confused. Although the new law against harassment is highly gender-biased, many right-minded companies have implemented a much more tempered and gender-neutral version of it.


Good education in gender communication would do the trick. It is disappointing that the NEP does not consider the new forms of literacy that students must be educated on. It would make people more conscious but also more responsible while exercising their natural gender biases. Nevertheless, independent efforts can scale the gap from conscious to responsible communication. In short, education will generate consciousness, while viewed practice by the media will make us more responsible communicators. 


Portions of this piece are adapted from the author’s address while chairing the UNESCO-SWAN working group on setting guidelines in gender balance in education and training.


As founder of Being Responsible, the author Shashidhar Nanjundaiah is trying—really hard—to instil Responsible Media Literacy among younger citizens through courses at schools and colleges. The 20-hour courses are a combination of awareness, deep-reading media exercises, and basic rules-of-thumb forensics to recognise fakeness. Earlier, he has led media institutes of repute to positions of leadership. Prof Nanjundaiah can be reached shashi.nanjundaiah@hotmail.com. His views here are personal.



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