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Women's issues and media

Superficiality, sensationalism and insensitivity frequently mark coverage of women's issues in the Indian media, says a new book.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2006 14:03 IST

Whose News? The Media and Women's Issues
Editors: Ammu Joseph and Kalpana Sharma
Publisher:  Sage
Pages: 405
Price: Rs 420
Format:  Paperback
ISBN: 0-7619-3493-6

Women's issues in the Indian media are still, by and large, seen as narrow, niche issues and covered as such as dramatic or lurid cases of violence or discrimination and continue to receive more coverage than other equally important issues, says a book.

Superficiality, sensationalism and insensitivity frequently mark such coverage while serious coverage of significant gender-related events is often lost in the carpet coverage accorded to trivial pursuits says Whose News by journalists Ammu Joseph and Kalpana Sharma.

Women continue to be markedly under-represented even in professional categories where they do have a substantial presence, the authors say in the updated edition of their book first published in 1995. Quoting findings of Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP-2005), they say even in the new millennium expert opinion in the news is still overwhelmingly male, with men making upto 83 per cent of all experts and 86 per cent of all spokespersons quoted in the stories.

Women's points of views are rarely heard on topics that dominate the news agenda such as politics and economics. Surprisingly, even in stories that affect women directly and profoundly, such as gender-based violence it is the male voice that tends to prevail, the authors say.

The authors note that - sadly -  issues like violence against women, dowry deaths, rape, sati and women's rights under religious-community-based personal laws (selected for study in the first edition of the book covering the period 1979-1988 as having caught the attention of the media then) remain alive today.

"Clearly, we still have miles to go before gender equality becomes a reality in and through the media", the book says.

The situation is not very different in other parts of the world despite international concern and activism on gender and media issues since the mid-1990s, the authors say.

Quoting the findings of the Global Media Monitoring Project, 1995, the first extensive cross-national, quantitative study of women's portrayal in the media spanning newspapers, radio and television in 71 countries, they say that only 17 per cent of the world's news subjects (that is news makers or interviewees in news stories) were women.

"They (women) were least likely to be news subjects in coverage of politics and government and most likely to make the news in areas like health and social issues", the book says.

More recently, a mini-survey of the Bangalore editions of six English language newspapers during the first ten days of March 2005 revealed both sides of the gender coverage coin, the authors say. The survey findings confirmed that gender awareness has yet to be integrated into 'mainstream', 'hard news' media coverage. It also revealed the overwhelming influence of commercialism, the presence of lifestyle celebrity journalism and blending of news with entertainment in much of the media today, the book says.

The note on background to the book says that the press is not the most important means of communication in a country like India, with its large illiterate population. Yet, because of the prevailing power structure, which is dominated by those with access to education, the written word carries weight that is out of proportion to its outreach. Therefore, its ability to influence the attitudes of both ordinary readers and policy-makers cannot be under estimated, the authors say.

On women's magazines, the book says that although number of such magazines increased dramatically they seemed to be conduits for the consumer goods industry-especially the beauty, fashion and food business- rather than for emancipatory ideas.

The book also notes that according to the National Readership Survey (NRS) 2005, while magazines as a whole had lost ten per cent of their readership, women's magazines in English lost nine per cent of readers. Among Hindi magazines, women's magazines were reportedly the worst hit with most of them losing readership.

The coverage of women's issues in the English print media and the Indian language press differed in a number of ways, the authors say. The book has been divided in sections dealing separately with the English press, dailies, periodicals and the language press.