In The Wake Of Shivani

IN Media Practice | 03/09/2002
In The Wake Of Shivani</headline>



In The Wake Of Shivani</headline>


<synopsis>The notoriety attending this high-profile case can have negative repercussions for Indian women in journalism: it  strengthen the arguments of  both conservative families and  conservative media managements against women doing political reporting.


</synopsis>Ammu Joseph


As Shivani Bhatnagar continues to make news in a manner not anticipated by the title of my book (Women in Journalism:  Making News), her story  raises a number of questions about the media, ethics and gender.


The first, of course, relates to media coverage of the latest developments in the case, some of them happening – live and in colour – in front of television cameras.  In fact, a unique and worrying aspect of the coverage is the way in which the media have freely aired unsubstantiated rumours and possibly libelous allegations, apparently exercising little editorial caution or discretion in the matter.


The extraordinary play given to the story is, perhaps, only to be expected, given the dramatis personae.  However, the customary focus on the personality and alleged relationships of the female victim is not only insensitive but unprofessional, especially in view of the fact that such speculation is extraneous to the case (nothing justifies murder) and serves no worthwhile public purpose even as it violates the right to dignity of the dead and the right to privacy of the bereaved family, which includes a little child.  It is clear that gender plays a part in determining who is to  be the subject of such salacious gossip:  Shivani is fair game, but not the men in high places with whom she has been linked (rightly or wrongly), including the fugitive police officer who is the main accused in the case. 

But the case and media coverage of it have implications that go beyond these somewhat obvious sins of omission and commission.  For one, the high-profile nature of the case can have negative repercussions for Indian women in journalism.  Inconceivable as it may seem to media persons based in metropolitan media centres and pursuing successful careers in "national" -- especially English-language – media, the unfortunate fact is that a surprising number of families, communities and employers across the country still believe that journalism is not a suitable, let alone a respectable, profession for women.   The alleged facts of this murder case, as well as unnecessary conjecture about the victim’s personal and professional life, may well make life more difficult than ever for many women aspiring to a career in the media and/or honestly struggling to make it in the profession. 

The notoriety attending the case cannot but  strengthen the arguments of conservative families who, if they were to allow  daughters and/or wives to work at all, would prefer them  to settle for more conventional, if less exciting and less potentially liberating, careers.  It is also likely to reinforce the resolve of conservative media managements not to hire women or, at least, not to assign them to the coveted fast track of reporting (especially on politics), which involves more interaction with the so-called big, bad world.  In those parts of the country and sections of society where women in journalism are already looked at with some suspicion, with their irregular schedules and late hours of work contributing to misconceptions that often lead to tension within families and sometimes,  reportedly, even interfere with their prospects of marriage (!), the gossip and innuendo surrounding this case could well exacerbate their problems. 

The case and the manner in which the victim’s career path has been presented in sections of the media could also give credence to the common assumption that a woman’s professional success is invariably due to some personal factor:  family or social connections, and/or romantic or sexual

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