From censorship to gender bias, MediaCon2016 discusses media’s painpoints

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MediaCon2016, a national conference on Media and Political Transformation was organised by the Department of Communication of St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bangalore, on 24 and 25 November 2016. The Co Media Lab supported the event as a partner.

Various paper presentations, a panel discussion and a film screening followed by a discussion with the film’s Director marked the two-day event.

Rana Ayyub, author of ‘Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up’ was the chief guest for the inauguration. She spoke about the need to have dissenting mindset among students, the need to push the barriers and think beyond the obvious. She advised the students to become the journalists who can speak truth to the power fearlessly, and believe in their gut feeling while working on any story to find the truth.

The book is a collection of inputs of a sting operation conducted by Rana Ayyub, after the encounter of a girl, Ishrat Jahan, an alleged ‘terrorist’. Enthusiastic students flooded her with questions on her book, and the life after the book release etc. Rana said she would not be surprised if she is arrested soon, but no official who has been quoted in the book has ever come out in the open to rule out the allegations against them. If someone is willing to take up the issue to the court, she would be willing to share the sting operation tapes with the court but she asserted that she would not be putting it all in public domain.

Censorship and Cauvery coverage

In the first session that followed the keynote address, ‘Media: shift from proposition to propaganda’ Ananya Filbert, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, presented a paper on ‘Media: Bias, Probity and Propaganda’ that she had co-authored with Ganesh Gopal. She quoted two recent events in the Malayalam entertainment industry as examples with respect to regulation.

The first case in point was of the Malayalam serial ‘Kutti Pattalam’ wherein children as young as 3 – 5 years were asked ‘inappropriate’ questions by the anchor. The show was subsequently pulled off air – this was a case of regulation being too little and too late. Another example was of censorship of the movie ‘Kathakali’ – this could probably be considered a case of regulation curtailing freedom as, among other things, the movie deals with the protagonist exploring his sexuality, and scene depicting frontal nudity. During the presentation, references were also made to Udta Punjab and Alighar, recent Bollywood movies that had to work with the censorship board before they could be shown to the public.

Thereafter, Vahini Aravind spoke about ‘Impact of media on social behaviour during crisis: A case study of Cauvery water dispute news coverage among Kannada news channels’. Her paper, which was co-authored by Rajeswari R, focused on how news channels like TV9,  Public TV, Suvarna TV and BTV covered the Kaveri water dispute, and how intentionally inflammatory the coverage was. The government was forced to issue an advisory to media houses as a result of the sensational coverage by almost all regional channels. Karnataka government however is yet to lodge any complaint or initiative any action against any of these channels or reporters.

How the situation was portrayed by TN news channels, and whether any training was given to journalists before they are sent out to cover stories, absolute free press vs. press with social responsibilities etc were also discussed.

The second session was on ‘News as satire and satire as news’ with Naureen Aziz as the Moderator. Surabhi Suru of Jain University presented a paper on ‘News as satire and satire as news’ with examples from Times Now and NDTV.

Tara Saldanha from St Joseph’s College made a presentation on ‘Graphic Content: An exploration of the use of the Comic Form in Journalistic texts’ using Joe Sacco’s graphic novel ‘Palestine’ as an example on how satire could be transmitted through a few images and select words, as also aspects like border and size of the illustrations, etc.

Being a woman journalist

The Panel Discussion on ‘Media and the reinforcement of patriarchal muscle in contemporary Indian society’ with panelists Nisha Susan, Co-founder and Editor of the online magazine ‘The Ladies Finger’; Pooja Prasanna, Bangalore Bureau Chief of Times Now; and Shruthi H M, a Senior Reporter from The New Indian Express.

Bias at workplace, (not) being asked to do a story because the reporter is a woman, ease and difficulty in networking with sources of information including policemen and politicians to get ‘off the record information’, dealing with stereotyping (‘you are like my daughter’…), wage disparity and other issues.

Pooja said that having been in Times Now for the past six years, she was never asked to do / not do a story because she was a woman. She mentioned that it was essentially how one saw (viewed) oneself.

Shruthi was of the opinion that media is as patriarchal as society allows it to be. Talking about vernacular media, she felt that local media had a long way to go with respect to hiring women and allowing them to express their views for all to see / read.

Speaking about how news programs are made, Nisha said that in most cases ‘it is assumed that consumer of news is a man’. She talked about how she and her team were trying to break this stereotype by looking at events through the point of view of a woman. Press Council of India has 28 members – all men, and not a single woman, pointed out panelists.

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Participatory journalism

On Day 2, during the session on ‘Participatory Journalism and social movements’, Padmanabha K V, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Tumkur University, presented a paper on ‘Political ideology of youth.’ He explained how online tools are playing a critical role in the political communication process. Increased internet penetration in India in last six years has led to a positive relationships between the use of digital media and political participation.

Padmanabh K V and Sathish Kumar, co-author of the paper supplemented their presentation with the outcome of a survey that they conducted recently to explore the kind of influence Facebook has on the political ideology of its users. The survey done on 139 young Facebook users revealed that the youth though are exposed to information through Facebook, do not form political opinion based on Facebook posts and updates.

Focus on environment journalism

The second session of the day was on “Print media’s role in educating humans to co-exist with urban birds.” Marianne de Nazareth, science and environment journalist, expressed her concern over how urbanisation has made us pay least attention to birds living in cities specially sparrows, owls and turtle doves. She started off the session with pictorial presentation of a wide variety of birds that are found in cities and how increased human activity has created pressure on natural ecosystems.

She also spoke about her study on news coverage on birds in three major English dailies in Bengaluru over a span of three years. She was of the opinion that the media coverage on birds was not satisfactory. Marianne highlighted the need to sensitise media to create greater empathy and objectivity when covering the issues like birds and environment.

The last leg of the two-days event witnessed a documentary film screening. “Kya Hua Is Shashar Ko,” a documentary film made by Deepa Dhanraj three decades ago, was screened post-lunch. The documentary film narrates the communal riots story of Hyderabad in the 1980’s.

Its director Deepa Dhanraj who was present at the screening, said that one can co-relate with the politics of communal violence that had happened in Hyderabad 30 years ago and what is happening in various parts of the country at present. “Politics has not changed for good over the years, but has only worsened,” she said. She responded to all the questions raised by inquisitive minds at the conference, right from her experience of documenting and shooting the film to the research involved, objectivity etc.