As the #MeToo movement’s ripple effect continue, Nabanita Das asks whether the media industries in the UK and India have finally turn a corner?
“We knew which bosses to make sure you work less with when you were on your own at night in office; the ones to avoid; or talk to during Christmas parties. It’s totally different set up these days. Things now have got a lot better,” says Ros Snowdon, the city editor of Yorkshire Post, recounting her harrowing experience of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that she faced at the initial years in the media industry. Ros says, finally, the industry she loves, has addressed issues of sexual harassment at newsrooms raised by the now famous #MeToo movement. The business journalist remembers how she was not taken seriously and even thought to be to a ‘man’ on a phone call, when she was promoted as the editor — a role, which, till then, rested only on a male personality.
What began as a hashtag on social media by victims of sexual abuse by American film producer Harvey Weinstein, has steadily catapulted into a mass movement across nations. The mass movement, which inspires victims of sexual assault at workplace to shame their perpetrators, began in the US entertainment industry but soon spread to the UK and India. And surprisingly, it did not confine itself to the world of showbiz but hit the media industry too.
Ros recently voiced her #MeToo story in her column and her experience of rampant sexism when she began her career. Reminiscing her ‘horrible’ days of starting out as a scribe, Ros says that no one really “stands up for you”. “But, what I have tried to do, in my 25 years of journalistic career, is take younger female journalists under my wing, when I came across sexism. People will be commenting on the size of their breasts, on how big or small they were. And these were men like senior executives and I would take them up and say that you can’t talk to them like that because these young journalists like from universities don’t know what’s normal or what to expect. Many women did that to me and I think it’s part of our duty to see that young female journalists who are just starting out to check that they are protected,” she added.
With the changing scenario, women journalists are now coming out to name and shame their perpetrators, which is a sign of development, asserts Ros. “When I began my career in the 90s, there weren’t many female journalists. There are a lot more now and that’s great,” she said.
In India, however, the scenario is quite different, and it will possibly take more time to improve. The #MeToo movement was sparked in India when actor Tanushree Dutta spoke about her distressing experience, when veteran actor Nana Patekar tried to inappropriately touch her, while shooting for a film’s song sequence. Tanushree’s ‘coming out’ gave confidence to many women to talk about their experiences. Journalist Priya Ramani, the former colleague of journalist and Minister of State MJ Akbar narrated her tale. Thereafter, 20 journalists levied sexual misconduct charges against him, forcing him to resign from his office with Editors Guild of India suspending him on December 12, 2018.
My statement pic.twitter.com/1W7M2lDqPN
— Priya Ramani (@priyaramani) October 15, 2018
Priya Ramani tweeted her statement.
Hoping for a better tomorrow for women journos, Haimanti Mukherjee, Senior Assistant Editor of The Times of India, says: “There are more women in the newsroom these days. In my two-decade career, I have seen a rise in women joining media, as reporters, photographers, which were traditionally thought to be a man’s domain. Women, it was assumed were fit for the desk, as sub-editors and page makers. But I think things have changed for the better since the time I joined at about 2001. At that time, at least in my experience, men thought page-making was a woman’s job, and would shy away from that responsibility. That has changed. I see as many men as women on desks today. There are several women who are reporters, which again is a great change. But we have a long way to go because work hasn’t necessarily translated into positions of power for women in this industry. The top positions are still held by men in most organisations in media.”
The movement saw top notch journalists from national dailies like Hindustan Times and The Telegraph step down from their positions of power after facing allegations of sexual abuse. And since conversations about sexual harassment in the workplace has been long overdue, Mukherjee believes such a “movement is so important”. “Since sexual harassment cases are hard to prove and has a statute of limitations in India, it’s hard for women who have been harassed in the past to hold the accused accountable. Therefore, the movement is so important. Because recourse to law isn’t an option for many,” she added.
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) December 12, 2018
Editors Guild of India issued this statement suspending ex minister of state MJ Akbar and ex editor of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal on December 12.
The #MeToo movement has given a voice to victims who were till now suffering in silence and there lies its success. Ruben Banerjee, Editor, Outlook Magazine, said: “I think this recent avalanche of allegations has sensitised all of us, making us more proactive. There will always be those among us who would try and prey, but heightened checks and balances mean they will find it tougher. Women have found their voice and they will speak up against their tormentors. That I think will be the biggest deterrent.”
Media performs the role of a watch dog of the society. But, when a body tries to monitor other’s actions one should realise that self-censorship is of primal importance. And the #MeToo movement has exposed the industry’s ugly side. While the UK media has come a long way by recognising women journalist’s talents, Indian media still needs to travel miles before it can shed its recent abasement.