Gender Imbalance in Odisha Media

Chirasrota Jena*
Research Scholar, Dept. Of Journalism & Mass
Communication, Berhampur University,
Odisha, India

Dr. Sunil Kanta Behera**
Professor of Eminence, Dept. of Mass Communication
& Journalism, Tezpur Central University,
Assam, India

Abstract

Media is playing an important role in transforming every nation. Be it the promotion of gender equality or the formation of opinion on major issues, it has always done its duty actively. But when it comes to its own industry, it has shown a very depressing trend. The media industry throughout the world has presented a male-dominated work culture. Women are significantly underrepresented and have less role in the decision-making process. This paper tries to present the gender gap in the Odisha media. It is very difficult to get data regarding working journalists in Odisha. But the author has tried to collect the data available with both the official and unofficial sources in Odisha. The District Public Relation Offices in various districts have their own lists of working journalists in their respective district headquarters, subdivisions and at the village level. There are also some districts that do not have any record of working journalists. This paper is an attempt to figure out the current gender inequalities found in the media industry in Odisha.

Introduction

We are always claiming that females are at par with their male counterparts in various professions. Still, women have a long way to go in getting equal professional status with men. Despite being considered a noble profession, journalism still offers women scanty opportunities in quality job assignments, emoluments and promotions. According to a global report on journalists, male wages exceed female wages in all the 16 countries where the studies were conducted (WIGR, 2012). Despite the fact that lots of feminist debates and discussions are conducted by the media on the position of women journalists in their country, it is extremely unfortunate that female journalists are still treated with minimal importance both inside and outside the newsroom. This is a global trend.

Women’s groups from around the world have reported that gender discrimination in the workplace, combined with a general lack of respect for women’s human rights in many cultures, creates enormous barriers for women entering the industry. In many countries, women who seek to enter the media face sexist attitudes, sexual harassment, pay-inequalities, discrimination in assignments and promotions, inflexible work environments, and a lack of adequate supportive mechanisms for working women. The Global Media Monitoring Projects in its 2015 report reveals that the rate of progress towards media gender parity almost ground to a halt over the previous five years. In 2015, women made up only 24 per cent of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news, exactly as they did in 2010 (GMMP, 2015).

Even in countries such as the USA, where women form the majority of students in journalism courses, only a small percentage of these women go on to work in the media. According to a report published by the Women Media Centre on the Status of Women in the US media in 2015, in evening broadcast news, women appear on-camera only 32 per cent of the total time as compared to 68 per cent male; in print news, women report 37 per cent of the stories as compared to 62 per cent men; on the internet, women write 42 per cent of the news as compared to 58 per cent men; and on the wires, women garner only 38 per cent of the bylines as compared to 62 per cent male. While the numbers of male and female journalists are edging towards a healthy balance, few women are advancing to senior or management levels for which they have limited control over hiring and promotional practices and also over defining news items. The following pie-chart clearly indicates the trend seen in the US media industry.

img01

(Source: Women Media Centre, 2015)

Male Journalists:
Female Journalists:

The above pie-chart presents the percentage of women contributing to the news making and distribution process in different media outlets across the US. As per the report of the Women Media Centre, women are writing more on topics such as education, lifestyle, health and religion.

This is not only happening in the USA but also in other parts of the globe. A report from the UK pointed out that female journalists are less likely than men to achieve the more senior and well-paid positions. Suzanne Franks, the researcher and writer, mentioned that women who do secure jobs at a senior level in journalism are more likely than men to be childless. Franks found that where women have built successful careers in journalism, it tends to be in the lifestyle areas. Meanwhile, politics, news, comment and opinion remain largely the preserve of men (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/new-study-suggests-gender-inequality-still-major-issue-uk-journalism/).

We are facing a similar situation in India. Some conservative families still don’t encourage their girls to pursue a career in journalism in India. The degree of discrimination in the Indian media is high since our culture and society traditionally have attached importance to patriarchal authority and have upheld a male-dominated social construct in almost every aspect of society. Consequently, women’s right to work has never been a prominent issue in this country in earlier times. But now the trend is changing for which women have become numerous in the country’s work population as the level of their educational qualification has significantly improved. Women contributing substantially to the gross family income has also become a significant trend in today’s society where their participation in the social sphere is given utmost importance.

Earlier newswomen in India were not allowed by their organisations to go out and do reporting. Female journalists were only allowed to sit in the office and do the copywriting work. During the 1940s and 50s, the whole journalism industry was dominated by men. But now we are witnessing an increasing trend in women’s involvement in media organisations. It is a big jump for the Indian news women. Looking into the glamorous side of the profession many young girls, after completing their degrees in journalism, are taking a serious interest in joining the media industry. We are witnessing news women in print, electronic and online media houses—women who are either reporting or doing copy desk work in newspapers or otherwise in case of television channels, we see them working as newscasters, reporters and at the desk also. Now we are also seeing camerawomen and women photojournalists.

The relationship between Media and Women has a certain structure where women are trapped as an object. The role of women in media-decision making is reflected in the poor representation of women issues and concerns. These news women have high expectations from their jobs while entering the profession. But it is a pity that the industry hardly cares for these women who after practising the profession for some months or years are realising the negative side of the industry (Tomar, 2011). Each and every moment they have to fight to prove their mettle and thereby to find their proper place in the male-dominated industry. Surprisingly, however, the number of women passing out with journalism degrees is higher than that of newswomen practising in the newsroom. The entire newsroom can be considered as a male-dominated workplace as newsmen hold the majority of jobs and authority. As per the report published by the National Commission for Women and Press Institute of India in 2004, more women are employed in the media now since they are available at lower salaries under the contract system. (PII, 2004).

Research shows that women’s performance is measured by certain beauty quotients in a scenario where physical appearance plays a large part in how a woman’s worth is assessed (Engstrom & Ferri, 2000). This can be especially true for women in television news who, while trying to gain credibility, have to cope with societal expectations of appearance and beauty. As far as the salary is concerned the newswomen are getting less than their male counterparts (WIGR 2012). While the distribution of assignments is concerned these female reporters are getting soft beats to cover from their organisations. However, things are changing slowly as some of the media houses have started assigning hard beats like politics, crime and war coverage to their female reporters. But the fact remains that these are limited to metropolitan cities in India and the condition of newswomen in rural and semi-urban areas is miserable. In general, rules of the game were blended to suit male conditions and their interpretations worked to the advantage of men journalists. One of the elements significantly emphasised in the research conducted by Ross (2000) was the culture of long working hours. It is the pressure from home and work coupled with discrimination through gender-stereotyping and greater control by management that are creating unwelcome difficulties for the female journalists to perform at par with their male counterparts.

We can call an organisation gender-neutral when its men and women employees are found to enjoy equal status in terms of work, wages, opportunities and benefits. Gender equality is an essential criterion which not only makes men and women aware of their rights but also makes them realise their potential to contribute substantially towards the growth of the nation. To this effect, they also benefit from the socio-economic, cultural and political development of a nation, in accordance with their similarities, differences and varying roles that they play (Ibid).

Historically speaking

As far as the history of India is concerned, women had played various important roles either during war or during the freedom struggle. However, it is an undeniable fact that our socio-cultural environment has predominantly been patriarchal where women were never treated at par with men—a situation that sadly continues to exist in today’s working environment. Though female participation in the working sector has increased considerably, yet it is typically a male-dominated one, whatever sector or sphere one can talk of. We have seen in our own media industry that very few women had worked during the pre-independence era. Even if some women were working in a newspaper they were restricted to the desk job.

Newswomen were restricted by the customs and traditions from entering journalism and had to face discrimination within the profession. During the late nineteenth century, the situation changed a bit. In a report titled “Breaking Through the Barrier”, Elisha Pattnaik says a decade ago women journalists in Odisha were rarely heard of. The few who took up the profession either free-lanced or were confined to desk jobs and had to be satisfied looking after the women’s and cookery segments of the newspaper. Women reporters venturing out and running around for news at odd hours was something that was not quite acceptable to the traditional Oriya families and society.

Today, the nature of journalism as a profession is changing. Though in the early years of journalism, women wrote light, fluff pieces or received no credit for their work, they have made great strides and broken through gender barriers in the field and they continue to do so. Newswomen had started to contribute to print journalism in the nineteenth century. In April 1870, Mokshodayani took out the first issue of Banga Mahila which stood up for women’s rights and pledged it would fight for women’s causes (Chatterjee, 2013, p158).

Most newspapers used to employ only men on the ground that they could be deputed to different kinds of work and posted to night shifts. Women were not employed till the 1960s (Murthy et. all, 2009). However, Homai Vyaravalla was the first women photographer who had joined The Illustrated Weekly of India in the 1930s. Metropolitan cities or urban areas in India were the places where news women came forward to join the rough and tough profession. In that period if women got any chance to work in any of the print outlets it was mainly in the English language newspapers. Vernacular newspapers were not the place where news women worked in the early period of journalism.

Getting an entry to a media house was a major challenge before the early news women. Even though very few had got the chance to work in some of the English newspapers, getting important beats like politics, crime and others were rare. Women were either doing the desk job or were assigned to cover soft beats like cultural events and local events. Until the Seventies, there may have been just one woman in each newspaper and two or three on the news desks in the English national dailies of the capital (Chatterjee, 2013, p159).

Coming to our own state Odisha, I can ascertain that Odia journalism has contributed immensely to the history of Indian journalism. The history of Odia journalism could be traced back to one hundred years. Not much literature is available on the significant contribution of women to Odia journalism. Nandini Satapathy, Jayanti Pattnaik and Manorama Mohapatra are amongst few women social workers cum journalists who have significantly contributed to this field. Some of them were editors in various Odia newspapers and magazines. Though a few women occupied editorial positions in various newspapers and magazines before and after independence, it was extremely rare to trace a newswoman as a reporter or photographer in Odisha till the late twentieth century.

During the 1980s some of the newspapers such as Sambad opened their doors for women journalists, but that was restricted to Bhubaneswar. The situation changed a bit only in the early part of the twenty-first century which, of course, can be attributed to the enormous growth of the regional media industry and to the opening of premier media institutes in Odisha. As far as the electronic media is concerned we have seen women news presenters in Doordarshan as well as in the regional channels or stations of All India Radio.

Present scenario

The contribution of women in the Indian economy has increased in the last couple of years. As per Census 2011, the workforce participation rate for females at the national level stands at 25.51 per cent compared with 53.26 per cent for males. In the rural sector, females have a workforce participation rate of 30.02 per cent compared to 53.03 per cent for males. In the urban sector, it is 15.44 per cent for females and 53.76 per cent for males. This is the general picture we have got from the Census of India. Lets us have a close look at the number game in the Odisha media industry.

At the beginning of the 21st century, a new phase began in the media industry in India and particularly in Odisha. The mushrooming of vernacular newspapers and 24/7 Odia news channels have created thousands of new jobs for aspiring journalists. The number of journalism institutes has also increased in the state. There are more girls enrolling in the journalism courses than boys across the state. It indicates two trends: first, girl students are taking to journalism like never before; and second, journalism as a career option for women is gaining wide social acceptance (Chatterjee, 2013, p164). It was the national dailies who after setting up their regional bureaus in the state capital hired news women in large numbers as a result of which the number of news women in various media outlets shot up.

The situation is changing not only in the state capital but also in several districts of Odisha. As far as the numbers of working journalists are concerned, it is very difficult to collect the figure on the total number of journalists working in the state capital, district headquarters, subdivisions and rural areas. There is no such record available either with the government of Odisha or with the unions. According to the official sources such as the Information & Public Relation Department and the District Public Relation Office (DPRO), the total number of journalists all over Odisha may be around 5000, whereas as per non-official sources, it may be 7000 out of which the number of women journalists, officially, maybe 300 and non-officially, 500. If we consider both the official and non-official sources then the percentage of women journalists may vary between 6 per cent and 8 per cent. This is a very depressing figure in the age of gender equality. Again, if we compare it with the number of male journalists then we can realise the state of the male-female ratio in the Odisha media industry.

As per the data given by several DPROs till June 2015, it is very unfortunate that there are some districts such as Nabrangpur and Keonjhar which have no women journalists. There are some districts where few women journalists are working. For example, as per the DPRO Balasore, the district list contains the name of 82 journalists including five women. Similarly, the Mayurbhanj district list contains 191 journalists including three women journalists. From these three journalists, two are from two subdivisions and one is from the district headquarter.

After going through the website and the records of the Information & Broadcasting Department of the Odisha state government another interesting fact has been noticed. As per the record, there are 122 accredited print journalists and out of which only six are women. That means the total percentage of women accredited print journalists is around 5 per cent. There is a total of eight electronic media accredited journalists out of which only one is female. Out of the 42 freelancers, accredited journalists only one woman freelancer journalist has accreditation.

The expansion in the vernacular press coupled with the explosion of television news channels has fuelled the growth of the media industry in Odisha. Despite increasing opportunities in the media houses and increasing enrolments in the media institutes why there is such a wide gap found in the male and female journalists’ ratio? This is not only found in Odisha or India, rather it is an international trend. Both an industry-wide study in the US by Dow Jones and a detailed study of successive graduating classes at the University of Maryland confirmed these patterns (Beasley & Theus, 1988: 45). Men with a journalism degree were more likely to find a job in the industry. This was particularly true in the areas of newspapers and broadcasting. Despite a large number of women students of journalism, the question was: what happened next? The evidence revealed that despite the significant number of women graduating in journalism, they were not as likely to get entry jobs in journalism as male graduates and, even when they did get jobs, there was not much progress in taking them to higher ranks (Frank, 2013).

Again, the number of female journalists is high only in the state capital. Bhubaneswar is considered the media hub. The English national dailies have established their bureaus in Bhubaneswar. The vernacular media houses have also opened their offices in the city. So the city shows a noticeable presence of women journalists. There are also some websites run by either veteran journalists or entrepreneurs in Bhubaneswar.

According to both official and non-official sources, there are around 250-300 women journalists working in Bhubaneswar. If we will look beyond the state capital, then we can clearly see the major differences in the ratio. As per the official data, there are only three journalists in the city of Rourkela which is considered a big city in Odisha. The city is considered to be an important place for media outlets as it houses major industries like SAIL and educational institutes like NIT. Balasore, another coastal district of Odisha known for its rich cultural heritage has many newspapers and magazines. But as per the DPRO list, there are only five women journalists as compared to 82 male journalists.

Let’s have a look at the table below on the gender gap found in media in Odisha as per the DPRO lists of various districts.

Table 1

Name of the District

Total No. of Journalists

No. of Women Journalists

Cuttack

68

1

Balasore

82

5

Sambalpur

40

1

Mayurbhaj

191

3

Angul

140

1

Kandhamal

49

1

The above table contains data on women journalists in six districts. While looking into the DPRO lists of other districts we get to know that the number of women journalists are either nil or negligible. By seeing the data presented in Table 1, we can clearly see the gender gap found in the media scenario in Odisha.

The difference in the age of equality

In a 2005 survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the overall proportion of women in newsrooms remained pretty much unchanged at 37 per cent. This was contrasted with the roughly 2:1 proportion in favour of women taking journalism courses at undergraduate and master’s levels – so that the numbers were almost exactly reversed between student cohort and those in the professional newsrooms (Franks, 2013). It is a serious issue that needs proper intervention, debate and discussion that despite good attendance of girls in journalism education, why a lesser number of women journalists is found in media houses.

Whenever there is a discussion on women career progression we compare it with men. So in the case of the journalism profession also compare the two genders. As per a report published by the European Institute for Gender Equality (2013), though women’s presence in the workforce is relatively high, women continue to be under-represented in the decision-making structures of major media organisations, both at operational levels as senior managerial and at strategic levels as CEOs.

But in the age of equality, the media women should be treated at par with their male colleagues. Despite legal aid, newly enacted laws for women, special Constitutional provisions for women there is a wide gap in the gender ratio in the Odisha media. There may be various reasons for this gap. It may be the working environment, salary structure, work assignment and others like the financial viability of the media houses. According to the report “ Status of Women Journalists in India” published jointly by the National Commission for Women and the Press Institute of India in 2004, many women journalists worked on daily wage, without an appointment letter and signing a muster roll at the end of the month to get Rs 1,500- 3000. This study was conducted all over the country and 3,500 women journalists were approached. It is very surprising that in Odisha, still there are many media organisations where journalists are not getting appointment letters even after working for several years. In some media houses, they have kept the degree certificates of some of the trainee journalists so that they couldn’t apply in other media houses for better pay. The social elements do not allow the woman journalist to be successful in her carrier (Mahajani, 1989).

The so-called big media houses of Odisha, who applaud themselves for providing good working conditions and better facilities to their women employees, don’t even have maternity benefits or pick and drop facilities for the women journalists who are working late nights. A research study conducted by Uma Joshi, Anjali Pahad and Avani Maniar confirm that the progressive English Press does not discriminate between journalists on the basis of gender (Joshi et al, 2006). The women who are working in the bureaus of national English dailies in Bhubaneswar have better working conditions and also are getting national level pay packages. But the women working in the vernacular medium newspapers and magazines are the worst sufferers.

Very few media organisations in Odisha are assigning heavy beats like politics, business or crime to women journalists. They are instructed to handle social features and soft stories and not business and politics which constitute the prime beats in any newspaper. Moreover, very few are members of the journalists’ associations or press clubs in Odisha (Chatterjee, 2013, p163). There are two major journalists’ unions in Odisha. One Union has 30 women members out of 1200 members and another has 20 women members out of 1700 members. There are some districts where no women journalists are members of the union. If we look into the medium of radio very few women are working in Odisha. With the coming up of private FM radio channels few young women mass communication students are joining there as either radio jockeys or production assistants.

Andhra Pradesh is a neighbour of Odisha. The situation is the same in Andhra Pradesh. The study of V. Durgabhavani and P Vijaylakshmi’s (2007) on the status of women journalists in media in Andhra Pradesh points out that most of the women journalists are freelancers (27.4 per cent) followed by newsreaders (26.8 per cent) and a considerable percentage of women were working as reporters (22.6 per cent) whereas 14.5 per cent were sub-editors. Women journalists working at the desk (52.6 per cent) faced a high level of discrimination when compared with those working in the field (41.7 per cent). Though the opportunity in the profession of media in Odisha has increased by leaps and bounds, still there is a long way to go to attract more women to the profession. In the last decade, the media landscape has entirely changed in Odisha and we are seeing many new faces on television channels and reading bylines of women journalists. But not only the media organisations but also the socio-economic environment needs to change a lot more to accommodate more women in this profession.

References

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