Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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As women block women, there’s no #MeToo solidarity on the way to Sabarimala

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From Ravish Kumar on NDTV India, to India TV, News 24, Newsnation, Prime News, Total TV and even a regional channel like Kashish TV have broadcast #MeToo.

As the midnight hour struck Wednesday, a smile of some satisfaction may have creased the faces of many in the media: the media had done its job, and done it well. Although the stand-off in Sabarimala continues, union minister M.J. Akbar has had to stand down. In both instances, the media didn’t ‘let down women’ as Republic TV had exhorted Wednesday, referring to the temple stand-off.

And quite a stand-off it was: ‘Hours before temple opens for all women’, days after the Supreme Court so ruled (CNN News 18), ‘tension mounts’ over ‘#Sabarimala showdown’ (News X). It’s ‘D-Day’; ‘uphold the law, uphold equality’, said Times Now. Some were meeker albeit factual: ‘7 protesters held’ (NDTV 24×7).

It was just after 10 am Wednesday, and already Sabarimala was on the boil.

Also read: Young women police officers don’t want to be posted at Sabarimala and offend Ayyappa

Switch to the Hindi news channels: there’s Urdu news on DD News, ‘bad days ahead?’ on NDTV India, referring to an IMF report, a juicy jungle shoot-out on ABP News, a discussion on Aligarh Muslim University and ‘desh drohis’ (traitors) on Zee News (so what else is new?). Only India TV, among the leading Hindi news channels, was reporting from Sabarimala.

That’s when it isn’t breaking for a commercial break. Likewise, News18 India.

Have you noticed Hindi news channels’ fondness for advertising, which receives almost as much coverage as does the news?

‘All women’

On Sabarimala, English news channels were out there in full force, thumping their chests like the protesters they’ve been covering for the last few days. You can tell from the headlines, and if you listened to the debates since the weekend, you will know that they are firmly behind `all women’ who want to enter the temple.

Regrettably, the controversy is a made-for-TV moment. Here, women are pitted against women — no #MeToo solidarity on the way to the temple. On most channels, elderly women told reporters they would not permit women to enter the temple — for CNN News 18, they halted mid-step off a bus, to deliver their intention to physically detain other females.

Here, devotees clash with the authorities. Here, ‘Minute by minute’ (Times Now), the ‘Sabarimala LIVE’ (Mirror Now) suspense was building up momentum to the 5 pm countdown when the temple opens its doors.

The latest English news channel on the box, India Ahead, joined in the chorus, ‘#Sabarimala for all’. Its motto reads, ‘It’s good news’. But what’s good about this confrontation or in the news about ‘J&K terrorists kill cop’?

What’s good about the Abkarnama we have witnessed since Sunday morning, when Union Minister M.J. Akbar returned to Delhi, days after women accused him of sexual misconduct? Here again, there’s been uniform support for the women who have named him and other men, by the English news channels.

In general, the media has been supportive of women’s causes. There is a very clear message going out on gender injustice which will, hopefully, help change attitudes and social biases — even those based on religion as is in the Sabarimala case.

Listen in

Hindi news channels are now reinforcing the message. In the last week, there’s been extensive #MeToo coverage: from Ravish Kumar leading the way on NDTV India, others like India TVNews 24News NationPrime NewsTotal TV and even a regional channel like Kashish TV have broadcast the allegations of sexual harassment and debated them. Whatever be the veracity of these claims, the coverage has ensured increased awareness of the issue.

Also read: India’s #MeToo has eclipsed even Rahul Gandhi and Vladimir Putin in the media

When respected journalist Bachi Karkaria says there has always been ‘a boys club’ and explains how difficult it was for women journalists to speak out, you listen (‘The Big Fight’, NDTV 24×7). When veteran journalist, Madhu Trehan, talks about how to tackle discrimination in the newsroom, you listen (CNN News18). When younger but experienced journalists like Suhasini Haider explain why Akbar’s continuance in his official capacity after he filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani raises questions of propriety, you listen (CNBC TV18). When N. Ram, whose heft is all too well known in the world of journalism, says ‘Akbar must go’, surely you must listen?

As you must hear out journalists like Suparna Sharma and Kanika Gahlaut, who have spoken, tweeted, written social media posts on Akbar and this week, spoken across channels. You may or may not agree with them but you must listen —something we seldom do, especially in TV studios.

Lawyers like Indira Jaisingh, Flavia Agnes and Karuna Nundy have spelt out chapter and verse on sexual harassment and the fact that ‘he did nothing’ physically doesn’t necessarily exonerate a man of sexual harassment.

Sadly, we’ve heard little from the men, the government or the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been ‘completely mum’ (Republic TV) on Akbar but have plenty to say on Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, and Navjot Singh Sidhu.

One doubt: Should news channels call Akbar a ‘sex pest’ (Times Now)? Or read out Ghazala Wahab’s shocking testimony about where his hands travelled over her body (India Today)? Even the use of ‘predator’ in the media might be reconsidered? Talking about such incidents is harrowing enough; reporting on them deserves sensitivity not sensationalism.

This is an updated version of the original article. 

The author is vice dean, Jindal School of Journalism and Communication.

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