Language media vs English media

BY R. Akhileshwari| IN Media Practice | 12/07/2004
Women journalists are worse off in the regional language media compared to those in the English press
 

 

Extracted from  Status of Women Journalists in India, produced  by the Press Institute of India, under the aegis of the National Commission for Women

 

 

 

R. Akhileshwari

 

 

Women journalists are worse off in the regional language media compared to those in the English press. All women journalists put together in the four languages of the south, that is Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam will not equal the number of women in the English language press in the south. They are often paid less than men, have no job security, are restricted to desk jobs, have no job mobility, have less opportunities, and face more sexual harassment than their sisters in the English language media.

 

Women journalists in the English media get better salaries, have better conditions of work, more prestige and more opportunities. Regional press will take at least 20 more years to reach the level of English press in recruiting media women, according to a woman editor of a Kannada magazine. A Telugu language journalist said women in the regional/language media have two options: either fight and assert their rights or prepare to be sidelined.

 

In all the four states, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar, the status of women journalists is the same. Unlike women journalists in the national dailies, those working in the regional press are faced with a range of problems beginning from an entry to the industry, placement in the industry, designation and proper remuneration, promotions, leave etc. While many of the women join the industry full of enthusiasm at a young age, only a few stay on.

 

The differential conditions of pay, working conditions, opportunities and even social interaction between women journalists working for English language media and the regional media seems to be a reflection of the social values and the status of the ‘vernacular’ press. This is reflected even in payments to freelancers and contributors. Those writing for the English media are paid more. The same writer, writing for the group’s language paper gets paid less.

 

Regional language women journalists are underpaid and exploited, treated as "B" or even "C" class citizens by newspaper managements. Belonging to the same newspaper group does not mean that women in both the English and language papers have similar working conditions and opportunities. This differential treatment is apparent even when the same management brings out both the English and a local language daily. Women in particular are affected in opportunities available to them for their professional growth. The Chennai based New Indian Express-Dinamani group, the Bangalore-based Deccan Herald-Prajavani group, the Hyderabad-based Eenadu-Newstime and Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle-Andhra Bhoomi group have this bias.

 

To a large extent there is equality in the English newspapers in terms of opportunities, tasks assigned, promotions, and salaries. Women occupy senior positions, they travel abroad on assignments, do political and crime reporting, write editorials. Some newspaper groups that have a tradition of encouraging women, such as Deccan Herald and Indian Express, have created history in terms of having women assistant editors, chief reporters, foreign correspondents and chief sub editors. Both groups have a tradition of women reaching the top, being decision-makers. But their language counterparts even today have no full-time women reporters.

 

Women have been chief reporters and bureau chiefs in the Madras edition of Indian Express for close to three decades. Yet, Dinamani, its Tamil language sister daily, did not recruit women to the editorial till five years ago. Even today there is only one woman reporter and she is not allowed to do night shift.

 

In Deccan Herald, almost every section with the exception of the general desk is headed by women: the Sunday magazine, the science and technology supplement, the features section and even the reporting unit. DH had posted a woman reporter to Washington DC for four years; it has had two women assistant editors who commented on politics and international affairs. Several state correspondents of DH are women. Yet in total contrast, women have been few in Prajavani, the group’s Kannada daily and these women have no access to political reporting. There is only one full-fledged woman reporter in Prajavani and she has been there just a couple of years. Prajavani has been transferring women subs to district headquarters for starting editions from there, which basically means the women can now do reporting, a job that was out of bounds for them earlier.

 

A similar situation prevails in the Eenadu Group of Andhra Pradesh. Its English daily Newstime, which has closed recently, had women on the desk, in reporting and in the features section. Within the organisation they were given position and power. But in the Telugu daily, Eenadu, the contrast is stark. Women are few, they are languishing without promotion, and are not encouraged to do anything other than the routine.

 

Deccan Chronicle of Hyderabad is headed by a woman; the features section is an all-women affair. Women reporters have reported on almost everything including crime but not politics. However, its sister Telugu daily Andhra Bhoomi has a couple of women journalists who are on the desk and who work in similar conditions as all other women journalists in other Telugu dailies. Women in Trivandrum’s edition of The Hindu believe they are a pampered lot because they get transport, have regular hours as they work on the Metro supplement and face none of the hassles, like transfer, faced by women in other newspapers. "We never have to ask for anything," said a senior reporter.

 

On the other hand, no woman will give up her job even if she faces discrimination or is given no promotion. The financial need overrides such considerations. Some women have, however, opted for other jobs due to the inconvenient timings in a newspaper.

 

According to Loganayiki, editor of Snehidhi, a Tamil magazine, there is a divide between regional and English media professionals just as there is between students of English and regional language medium schools. English language journalists, both men and women are better paid, have different lifestyle. However, she believes, the regional language journalists are better informed and English language journalists often take their help in doing their stories. This divide is not there among the younger women and new entrants to the profession.

 

In several places now women can no longer be ignored and also  the old tradition of keeping women out of the workplace has been set aside by the younger generation of newspaper owners. This has happened in Malayala Manorama. Fifteen years ago, women were not allowed to write the entrance test for recruitment to Malayala Manorama. In those days even receptionists in the organisation were men. Today there are women in almost all departments, the change brought by the second generation owners and their spouses.

 

Wages and Working Conditions

 

Almost all women in language media felt that women are not recognised as professionally competent even today. This leads to widespread discrimination—in salary, promotions and the work assigned making it very difficult for women to survive in the field. Besides newspaper managements practise the "hire and fire" policy especially with regard to women and more so in the regional media.  Women of the leading Telugu daily Eenadu are paid consolidated salaries rather than wageboard scales. They all hang on to their jobs because even that small-salary job is not available outside. In the Telugu daily Andhra Jyoti, every single person negotiates his or her salary.

 

When a young woman asked her news editor in a Tamil newspaper why she was paid less than her male colleague he said it was because men have to take greater risks in the job. Her question is why "Why do they protect us and then do injustice to us?" She would like to do serious writing but being in a magazine she has to do all kinds of other work. "See here, see what I am doing. Drawing rangoli and editing recipes. Is this why I joined the profession?" she asks. A senior journalist in a Kannada daily draws a salary that is paid to her male colleagues who has half her experience in the profession.

 

A beginner in a Telugu daily faced discrimination from the day of appointment itself. She was paid less than other men appointed along with her. After a year she along with the other trainees wrote a test to qualify and be made permanent. She passed the test, scoring more marks than many of the men, but was not made permanent. When questioned, the management informed her it was because she could not do the night shift. 

 

Though Kerala is seen as being very progressive, it is in fact very conservative, say women working in the state. A reporter who had worked in an English daily, relocated to her home town in Trivandrum, and found to her dismay that news sources would not interact with her when she went to interview them. They preferred to speak to her photographer.  Another woman said, they become the story if they persist in pursuing male news sources.

 

Discrimination and harassment

 

Discrimination and harassment by the male superiors is common for women journalists in the regional media while women in English language media have not as many complaints. Apparently women are seen as vulnerable, and those harassed have often borne it without complaining perhaps believing they are powerless to do anything about it. A trend that should worry all, especially women, is that women in distress get no support from their female colleagues, either in the organisation or from those in the profession. Empowerment of women journalists either in the regional or English language media is not such that they will fight for the rights of other women.

 

A S Padmavati, a journalist with two decades in the profession, believes "there is very little space for women. With whom do you fight? The enemy is invisible," she said of the discrimination and harassment media women have to put up with.

 

Kusuma Shanbhag, who worked for Prajavani for two decades, was harassed by her editor to the extent that she had to resign. She was suffering from cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy when the harassment began. First she was put on continuous night shift, then denied work. She was taunted and even denied a seat at her workplace after she was transferred to a magazine, following a representation to the management. Kusuma says none of her female colleagues stood by her during her harassment. They were afraid they too would be victimised if they supported her.  

 

Facilities, discrimination, personal harassment

 

At the workplace, it is a daily struggle for the women especially when they are beginners. A young girl sub editor in a Telugu daily said her male colleagues tended to blame her for any mistakes in the copy. They try to suppress the girls professionally constantly finding fault or criticising her performance. She quit after three years. If the girls get emotionally involved with their male colleagues they face humiliation daily.

 

Maternity leave is still an issue women have to grapple with in the regional media. Women go on maternity leave but are not sure if they will continue to have the job when they return. Several women lost their jobs while on maternity leave.

 

Women in senior positions like Jayanti of Deccan Chronicle and Vasantalaxmi of Andhra Jyoti believe that domestic responsibilities are a major hurdle for women, whether working in English or regional media. Before marriage, the girls work zealously, even two shifts, take a house near the workplace or ask parents or brothers to pick them up after night duty or if working late hours. Once they marry and have children, they either prefer to shift to other departments if there are opportunities or drop out of the profession. Some would like to return after the children have grown up but there are not many opportunities. 

 

Ammu Joseph who has researched women journalists across the country says women in regional language newspapers face problems such as scandal mongering unlike women in English newspapers where an average person, whether male or female is socially more free. "It is a socio-cultural divide," she says of the differential working conditions and the distance between women journalists in English and language media.

 

Promotions

 

There is no policy regarding promotions in most organisations whether regional or English. Promotions for most are irregular, non-transparent and whimsical. With women it is worse. On an average a woman journalist seems to have been promoted once in a decade. Some have not been promoted even once. Also promotions seem to be tied up with reporting. Since women are almost always sub editors they are not promoted. The performance of a sub editor is assessed for his/her ability to bring out an edition during the night, which is a test of the journalist’s news values, judgement and efficiency. Since most women do not do night shifts and therefore have no experience in bringing out editions, they are overlooked for promotions.

 

Where women have been promoted they have also faced trouble and rebellion from their male colleagues. A senior journalist in a Malayalam daily got her first promotion after 13 years; then she was made a senior sub, then news editor (NE). When her male colleagues revolted she was put in charge of production. To appease the rebels a man was also appointed news editor and they were rotated every month. When this arrangement did not find favour with the new NE, the management solved the issue by transferring her to a supplement, her rival to another edition and appointed a neutral man as the NE.

 

A Trivandrum-based correspondent of a national newspaper attributes lack of promotions for women to the lack of ‘bar-room bonding and bonhomie’ that men journalists have and women don’t. Invariably the "glass-mates" are promoted, she says. Not that they are hostile to me or that I don’t network or that I skip cocktail parties. I am simply not one of them." 

 

Women in English Language Press

 

Today it is much easier for women to enter and succeed in English language journalism partly because of greater acceptance, larger numbers and also because senior journalists walked a path for them as pioneering journalists several decades ahead of the regional language media. Some believe there is no discrimination and no glass ceiling in major English language papers.  The large influx of women into English media has been diverted to the features sections across the country with the result these sections in both English and language papers have become an all-women’s section, creating a newspaper within a newspaper, divorced from the mainstream. Ammu Joseph feels women are getting ghettoised. Like the women’s columns or women’s clubs of earlier times, women are being relegated into ‘softer’ areas, getting bogged down in features sections. While women would like to do serious, issue-oriented writing they are being "herded" into non-serious writing of celebrity and lifestyle journalism, she says.

 

Performance and punishment

 

Most women reported jealousies, petty rivalry and slandering arising from their bylines and special reports, mostly from their male colleagues and bosses and sometimes from female colleagues too. Seniors get back in their own way at women. For example the woman sub editor of a Kannada daily whose byline for an edit page article was dropped "by mistake." 

 

Yet, performance has not always been punished as in the instance of Jeyarani working with an established newspaper in Chennai. Although regional press and their establishments are tradition-bound and conservative she had set some trends. She travels alone, learnt photography on her own so as to illustrate her stories without having to depend on a photographer. So impressive was her performance that she was confirmed in her job in two years. It normally takes three to five years for women to get confirmed. Asked if being a Dalit working in a predominantly upper caste establishment was a problem, she said  "I gave a jolt to all with my performance. No one now talks of caste; none can reject me." Her formula for success: self-confidence, build on talent, become multi-skilled, be bold and learn to deal with people and situations.

 

While women have become editors of magazines both in English and language media, women editors of newspapers are rare although there are several deputy editors. A woman deputy editor explained that this was because nowadays editors do a lot of chores for managements, wheeling and dealing with politicians and bureaucrats in power. Women cannot or will not do it, so they cannot occupy the highest chair. 

 

(This chapter has been edited to reduce its length) 

 

Contact: pii@ndf.vsnl.net.in

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