Home > 2018 > And #MeToo: Discourse in Indian News Media

Mainstream, VOL LVI No 45 New Delhi October 27, 2018

And #MeToo: Discourse in Indian News Media

Sunday 28 October 2018

by Santosh Kumar Biswal

Following the suit of actress Alyssa Milano in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood, And #MeToo movement has arrived in India. Actress Tanushree Dutta’s allegation has created commotion, taking actor, filmmaker, writer and philanthropist Nana Patekar’s reputation at stake. Moreover, in the wake of the movement, the Minister of State for External Affairs, M.J. Akbar, has stepped down and readied himself for a legal battle against the accused. The coverage has unravelled a plethora of questions before the media practitioners and media researchers on the lines of modus operandi of the news media, media narratives and a wave of feminism and the feminist movement. It is a bare truth that the novelty of such a campaign on the lines of news values is yet to be abundantly fathomed. Some of the knee-jerk coverages apparently have spilled the beans and the styles of coverage on the given issue have exposed the perennial problems of the mainstream media. Hence, the deliberations on the functioning of the mainstream media continue unabated.

Soon after Tanushree’s allegation, a number such cases have been brought against the former Minster Akbar, Rajat Kapoor, Alok Nath, Gautam Adhikari, Prashant Jha, Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba, K.R. Sreenivas, Mayank Jain, Suhel Seth, Sajid Khan, Rahul Johri, Vinod Dua and Chetan Bhagat to Jatin Das. As a result, AIB’s film Chintu ka Birthday was dropped. Akshay Kumar postponed to work in film Housefull 4. Even though Jatin Das is accused of sexual harassment, his daughter, actor and director Nandita Das has chosen to endorse the campaign. This movement has allegedly unmasked and unseated many established persons who were involved in sexual harassments.

With the advent of such a movement fighting for women’s security at workplaces, the discussion on the wave of feminism has come to the fore. It is quite imperative to discuss the waves of feminism if one is discussing the nature of coverage and discourse of the mainstream media on the security of women. The first wave of feminism asserted about the legal issues and primarily on gaining the right to vote. It was often treated as a class struggle.

The second wave of feminism laid stress on removing disparities in sex, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto disparities, and official legal disparities. Under this wave, feminism was used to ensure birth control and fight against domestic violence and sexual harassments. Such a wave induced these kinds of social changes.

The third wave of feminism signalled the fight against violence on women, reproductive rights, reclaiming derogatory terms, sexual liberation and workplace-related issues like glass ceiling, unfair maternity-leave policies, motherhood support for single mothers by means of welfare and child care.

With the arrival of the social media, the fourth-wave feminism has come to limelight. Such kind of wave is technology-oriented as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and blogs give challenge to misogyny to attain gender equality. (Iannello, 2010; Cochrane, 2013; Zerbisias, 2015)

The discourse of all waves of feminism is there in the public in the light of And #MeToo movement. However, the mainstream media has attempted to cover the first and second waves of feminism. It has paid minimum heed to the third and fourth waves of feminism, which emanate the opinion of individualism and diversity. Also in general, it is not caring to cover the issues of marginalised and weaker sections of the society. It is an open secret that the mainstream news media is also not bothered to cover the issues of the disabled (Biswal, 2014; Biswal, 2017) and Dalits (Biswal, 2016) in a judicious manner. This apart, the coverage of allegedly sexual harassments has posed several questions on the pattern of functioning of the mainstream media.

Needless to say, with the advent of And #MeToo movement, perennial questions pertaining to the role of the media have come up for discussions and hence, the movement needs to be reassessed on the yardsticks of social responsibility. There can be no second opinion that the media has the responsibility to protect citizens’ human rights. Hence, in the context of women’s rights, institutionalisation of sexual violence has to be essentially covered in the media. Several victims have already expressed humiliations and irretrievable loss of their creative years. However, the narratives in news media contents have been marked by both media activism and media trial.

Deliberation on the aspect of media activism and media trial is of paramount importance to understand the nuances of coverage of And #MeToo in the mainstream media. Media activism utilises media and communication technologies for social and political movements. The methods could be publishing news on websites, creating video and audio investigations, spreading information about protests, and organising campaigns relating to media and communication policies. It can be used for varied purposes. Researchers have theorised frame-works to demonstrate the use of media for social movements and activism. The role of the media in reporting the Delhi Gang Rape Case was quite appreciable. The media played a wonderful role in covering the widespread protest on the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, editor of the Kannada weekly Lankesh Patrike. However, it was not upto the mark when it covered the murder of Santanu Bhowmik, a journalist who was killed in the North-Eastern State of Tripura while covering the raasta roko by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura. (Gupta, 2017)

On the contrary, media trial asserts the impact of media coverage on a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a judgment from the court. Whenever a sensational criminal case comes to be tried before the court, there is an expected upsurge in public curiosity. Taking mileage of such situations, the media publishes its own version of the facts, which may distort the legal proceedings or derail the legal process. The cases of Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo were effectively dealt with by the media, if one looks into the aspect of media trials. Unfortunately, the media was on the wrong when it was dealing with the Aarushi murder and Sheena Bora murder cases, which remained a black spot on the functioning of the media.

It is a known fact that the mainstream news media has opted for the ambivalence of media activism and media trials in the coverage of And#MeToo campaign. In a few cases like the Delhi Gang Rape, the media was alert and understood the gravity of women’s harassment at workplaces and allocated space and time to it. However, in the current coverage, the media is following the wrong step of media trial in which the coverage has been nuanced as a ‘witch-hunt’ where powerful men are being allegedly besieged. It is observed that the media has not been nuanced in reporting the current movement. The syndrome of breaking news has again spilled the beans of news values.

It is found that the media has not been scientific in reporting the current movement against women’s harassments. Initially, in almost all prime time debates in English television channels, the panelists were female. There was lack of male representation in opining their standpoints. It was found that the rhetoric and narration of the issue were half-done. Since the men were allegedly found culprits for which the movement was on, dethroning the men in discussion panels was not ideally warranted. However, things were partially corrected with the passage of time and the coverage on the given issue. It is sending a larger picture that the panels have been prejudiced, resulting in lapses in media ethics and their simultaneous incorporation in the production, distribution and consumption of news.

There has been a public discourse on the delay of exposure of alleged sexual harassments at workplaces. Certain hidden agenda is trying to downplay the dishonourable aspect of such deeds. The media should not follow and highlight such discourses; rather it should have a judicious stand which is legal and acceptable. The allegation brought by writer-producer Vinta Nanda can be deliberated in this context. Vinta accused that Alok Nath had sexually harassed her several times 19 years ago when they were working for a TV programme. Here, the media should subscribe to the idea how the woman could muster her courage in the dominant work-culture of men. The media should bring out the public discourse through its societal and activist function. By creating its agenda of social responsibility and empower-ment of women, it should stop cultivating the public discourse of the delay in exposing the sexual harassments.

The nature of coverage of the campaign is sending a signal that the media is just covering the issue without highlighting the central theme of the movement. The coverage is apparently episodic and not carried out in a sustained manner in almost all the newspapers. If one looks into the coverage of the allegation against Suhel Seth, the media is yet to project his statement on the mentioned allegation. As if the media is hunting for some other victim so as to turn the public focus on somebody else.

Almost all news stories are event-based and lack investigation and analysis. The media has not discussed the culture of women’s harassments at workplaces. The media is yet to figure out as to which industry or which profession or which age-group is more prone to sexual harassments. There have been no exploration to find out whether desk job or field work is more prone to harassments. Are institutional policies or personal disorders causing such infamous cases to happen?

If it is journalism, the media has not discussed whether newspaper houses or TV channels are more unsafe; whether harassments are more in day shifts or night shifts; whether more harassments are in desk jobs or field jobs; how many victims have proceeded for legal action. To answer all these queries of criticality, the media has to understand the work-culture and timeline study of women’s harassments at workplaces. The media should be nuanced and go for fact-checking with thorough investigative package of coverage.

Going beyond breaking news, news media should develop the discourse on the laws for workplaces relating to women. The dominant status of men, their power relations and privilege in several workplaces can be re-examined in the light of this emerging movement which attempts to ensure security and dignity to women at workplaces. Without any ignorance and further delay media narratives should be on the lines of the role of men sought in larger perspectives.

In a move to manifest its social responsibility and attempt to ensure human rights, it should spur the support of men to take a stand on behalf of women and strongly send out the message against abusive behaviours for ensuring gender equality. The viewpoints of legal persons and human rights, especially women’s rights, should be judiciously conceived and sent for public scrutiny.

The media should understand that media trial cannot bring justice to the victims at all time. Media trial should be considered as a calculative risk, failing which it can tarnish one’s image if someone is clean without any misconduct. If a person, who occupies a higher position in a company, falls prey to this campaign, it may put the employment prospects of women in danger. The media should be alert while reporting the movement to minimise the repercussions at large. At the same time, itshould be extra-cautious while covering the aspect of functioning of news media, media narratives, nature and wave of feminism and the feminist movement to keep the prejudiced coverage at bay. 

References

Biswal, S. (2017, March), ‘Representation of Women with Disabilities in Hindi Cinema’, Media Watch, 8(2), 67-74.

Biswal, S. (2016, October), ‘Media’s Disconnect with Dalits’, Mainstream Weekly, 54(43), 11-12.

Iannello, K. (2010), ‘Women’s Leadership and Third-Wave Feminism’ in O’Connor, Karen (Ed., 70—77)’, Gender and Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook, Thousand Oaks & California: Sage.

Biswal, S. (2014, July- September), ‘Media turning a blind eye to the disabled?’, Vidura, 6(3), 15-16.

Cochrane, K. (2013, December 10), ‘The Fourth Wave of Feminism: Meet the Rebel Women’, The Guardian. Retrieved from October 20, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/fourth-wave-feminism-rebel-women

Gupta, M. (2017, September 22), “Is the Indian Media Failing to Perform a Necessary ‘Activist’ Role?”, The Wire. Retrieved from October 18, 2018, https://thewire.in/politics/is-the-indian-media-failing-to-perform-a-necessary-activist-role

Zerbisias, A. (2015, September 16), ‘Feminism’s Fourth Wave is the Shitlist’, NOW Toronto, Retrieved from October 20, 2018, https://nowtoronto.com/news/feminisms-fourth-wave-is-the-shitlist/

The author is an Assistant Professor with the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC), Symbiosis International (Deemed University), Pune.

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