Moving forward from “naming and shaming” on social media, which has been a significant manifestation of the #MeToo campaign, editors Friday offered tangible suggestions for the way forward and called for stronger more diversified newsrooms.
“A lot of editors don’t seem to think they have the power to change things. This is that moment when we know we can all make that change that will take the movement forward in a meaningful way,” said Rupa Jha, head of Indian Languages, BBC World Service.
With the Indian media at the centre of the #MeToo campaign that swept across the country this past year, which also saw several journalists speak out against sexual harassment at the workplace, a panel discussion on the subject, ‘#MeToo in the Newsroom: What editors can and should do’ was held as part of the 13th edition of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in Delhi.
The panel discussion, comprising Jha, Dhanya Rajendran, co-founder and Editor-in-chief of The News Minute, Meenal Baghel, Editor of Mumbai Mirror and Ritu Kapur, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Quint, was moderated by The Indian Express Deputy Editor Seema Chishti, who started the discussion on what needs to be done moving forward.
Rajendran said: “Having covered #MeToo stories for the last one month, I have noticed that it has started conversations about what is workplace harassment, how do we protect our employees, how do we give training to them. I think these conversations were completely missing in the Indian context and those kinds of conversations have started in newsrooms.”
While she noted that the #MeToo movement has been a “revelation”, it was time to move beyond naming and shaming and the shock to the next stop: “policy changes” and thinking as journalists on how to better report on MeToo.
Referring to Minister of State (External Affairs) M J Akbar who was forced to step down after several women accused him of sexual misconduct, Baghel said that historically women could speak in the private domain but not in public spheres. She said: “In the 21st century, social media has given women access to a public platform so they can speak publicly.”
She said that Akbar’s reaction to the allegations, which was in the form of filing defamation cases, “really enraged many of us.” “Women are now saying they will no longer be kept out of the public domain, and the rest of the world better deal with it.”
Kapur underscored the need to properly document procedures in organisations after allegations came to light.
“It is important for this movement to make a radical change…it has to become meaningful to officially and formally report,” she said, pointing out that the Tehelka case has shown that if a woman was to report, the legal process will string her out.
“#MeToo allows us to re-look at the laws, somehow fast track it. It is very confounding.I think far stronger representations in newsrooms are needed. Men are scared, a lot of good that comes out of scared men. I find that men are not part of the conversation on sexual harassment or MeToo,” she said.
Jha said that most newsrooms took time to take cognizance of the movement itself. “I think there is a larger question on how we look at these issues. We didn’t give it as much importance as we should have. There was a lot of confusion on how to report it, and whether this should be reported or not. Most media houses took time to take cognisance,” she said.
Asked on how to deal with the age divide within newsrooms, which brings with it differing opinions on the #MeToo movement, Baghel said: “With MeToo, entirely credit goes to younger generation of women, and their inability to take bullshit, which older women will look the other way. Younger women bring about change not just in newsrooms, much more aware of their rights, also a challenge to authority.”
Referring to processes they would put in place in their newsroom to ensure a suitable and fair workplace, Rajendran said she would focus more on hiring to make it into an inclusive newsroom. Kapur stressed on constant training, essential for “conditioning that men in the newsroom come with” and stressed the need for more women in senior roles.
Baghel underscored the need to put in place “due process” when someone comes to an editor with an issue. “Stop, pause and listen,” Jha said. “Be aware of the unconscious bias and believe in the strength of the collective.”