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Sensitising reporters is crucial

At the 2nd Edition of Under The Raintree Women Cultural Festival 2019, a panel of eminent journalists discussed 'Journalism & Culture in Contentious Times', and offered deep insights into the functioning of journalism in India.

The panel comprised of Kalpana Sharma, CG Manjula, Rohini Mohan,

Sharda Ugra and was anchored by Ammu Joseph. While the core of the discussion revolved around ‘culture and identity’ and how they have crept into most issues covered by the media, the highly engaged audience also got an idea of the broad spectrum of challenges journalists encounter in their course of work.

The influence of culture, caste and region in Indian sports through the lens of a senior

woman sports writer like the feisty Sharda Ugra was refreshing. She has worked for three decades in different publications, and is currently senior editor for and Sharda shared her experiences of looking for interesting stories in sport beyond reporting on the first half results of a match.

There was Kalpana Sharma’s rich and sharp insights on the challenges of reporting in conflict areas like Kashmir and the North-East. Being a seasoned journalist and columnist, Kalpana is the consulting editor at The Economic and Political Weekly, and has authored several books. She narrated anecdotes on how culture and her ‘identity’ impacted her work—while covering the 1992 communal riots in Bombay or the Bhuj earthquake. Though journalists don’t carry the baggage of their identity, the reality is that it comes into play.

Kalpana "Many of us think the label journalist defines our identity. In fact, when we speak to people, it is defined by what is my name, where do I come from?"

CG Manjula, a recipient of the Karnataka Rajyotsava award in 2013, and a former Assistant Editor of Deccan Herald, had a measured but strong take on how culture intrudes into coverage of gender issues. Highlighting the resurgence of patriarchy in India, this veteran said, “Moral policing and honour killing were earlier limited to Rajasthan and the northern states but now it is happening in Karnataka too.”

Rohini Mohan, an acclaimed journalist who writes on contemporary politics and human rights in South Asia in Al Jazeera, New York Times, Tehelka and Outlook, had stories to share on how caste or regional issues would affect her reporting. “Caste is most vexing for me,” she said, and spoke of feeling constrained to write either a victim narrative or against-all-odds success kind of stories on the oppressed. There is a need for Dalit or Adivasi voices telling their own stories to emerge

in the media, she felt.

The panel was ably moderated by Ammu Joseph, one of journalism’s most prominent

feminist voices. An independent journalist and prolific author, she is South Asia coordinator of the IWMF’s Global Research on Women in the News Media. Laxmi Murthy, a Bengaluru based journalist, who has recently co-authored a report on the situation of the media in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, and has covered issues in the north-east since the early 90s, also joined the panel and talked briefly about Naga 'identity' and what article 370 meant to Kashmiri identity. She threw some light on the status of one of the longest insurgencies in India – the fight for a greater Nagaland – by Nagas.

Laxmi Murthy talked about the identity crisis in different regions.

Some key insights emerged from the panel discussion. One being that reporting urgently required a kind of 'sensitivity' to factors surrounding caste, religion, region or conflict. “If we don’t train our journalists or make them sensitive to how our society mediates with gender, caste, and religion, we are helping to perpetuate the illusion that nothing is happening,” said Kalpana.

Already, the National Crime Records Bureau left out lynching incidents in the country in their annual report, she pointed out. “It is as if hate crimes do not exist. Then, it is the media’s job to bring it out,” she said. Journalists have to be sensitive while reporting on conflict areas like Kashmir or on any crime. She cited the example of the 2006 Priyanka Bhotmange and her mother rape and murder case in Maharashtra, which was initially reported as a crime but it took a fact-finding commission to dig out the caste factor.

Audience members had several questions for the panellists.

The panel also brought up the lack of checks and balances in Indian media today.

Anyone with a cellphone could record an event and put it out on social media today. The credibility of news too in legacy media was diminishing because of the corporatization of media with an eye on profitability. However, Rohini ended on a positive note: “There is a growing tribe of independent journalists, fact checkers etc., and there is still space for dissent and questioning or else none of us will be able to continue working. There is still room for good work in journalism.” Amen to that!

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