Representation of Women in Print Media

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By Maham Abbasi, Copy Edited by Adam Rizvi, New York, TIO:

The mass media acts as an effective tool for disseminating information to masses. Among others, print media has been satisfying the information needs of the majority of the people. They provide to the public by producing necessary information that enlarges the welfare of the people and helps in the advancement as well as the growth of the nation.

The newspaper doesn’t just provide information but helps to interpret, to understand their significance, and also to entertain. Newspapers which were published from big cities later expanded to smaller places also. Recently they have been following the news value of proximity and have even started as small media enterprises. In many of the third world countries, they have been trying to reach even interior areas. Mass media serve as significant sources of information to various issues by placing the public agenda, influencing policymakers, affecting research, and inciting them to make use of opportunities. The good newspaper and the good reader are involved in the serious business of trying to understand a man and the universe in which he lives” (Bradley p.22).

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The reach of print media, the newspapers and magazines, is much less in developing countries due to widespread illiteracy. Nevertheless, print media plays an important role in influencing public opinions and setting agenda for what is constructed as news. Margaret Gallagher’s study in the early 1980s pointed out that women and women’s issues find comparatively little space in newspapers. In general, newspapers and magazines reinforce sex stereotypes.

With the increasing feminist critique of the print media and participation of feminist professionals in the print media, the situation has somewhat changed. In the 1980s, the general apathy among newspapers and periodicals towards women’s issues has given way to some awareness and better coverage. Earlier, women and their issues or problems never figured on the front page of a newspaper and women were predominantly depicted as victims of atrocities.

Today women are more “visible” in the mainstream print media, where they figure side by side with the old stereotyped sexist images and the back page pin ups. Over the years, feminist pressures on the media have led to a gradual increase in the space devoted to the selected women’s issues and noticeable decline in the overtly sexist and anti-women items and articles. Nevertheless, there is considerable ambiguity in representation of women and women’s issues in the newspapers and magazines.

The news media plays an important role in fulfilling the informational needs identified by awareness research and addressing women’s primary questions. In India, content analysis of women’s issues in newspapers by several researchers showed that most of the women’s issues were presented in Local / City page but career consultants and business/ economy page do not consist of any women’s issue in the selected newspapers. Results from different surveys showed similarity with the findings of the survey of “The Hindu” (2005) newspaper which reported that localized coverage of women’s issues is useful to raise the voice of women.

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A study of Hindi newspapers in India  showed that women’s coverage in newspapers is frequently in reports on domestic violence, sexual abuse, and family issues that it has an episodic approach, which, refers to the framing of events such as rape or dowry violence as isolated occurrences of crime cases, rather than as continuous, regular outcomes of complex social and economic factors like patriarchy or unequal opportunities. In a vast nation filled with stories, both good and bad, these selected scandals are the occasional flashes of the ugly.

 

Abortion and dowry, for example, are often representative of episodic reporting – the key stories around these peaks are those that reach the news audience the loudest, and conversation often rises and falls around these. On examining the events for rape, selective abortion, dowry, and child marriage, surveys have found that most fell into the following categories: statements by politicians, high profile cases, or government schemes. Women involved in crimes also make their place in the papers. They are almost invisible in economic and professional interventions. Even the worse fact is that, while men have their voices heard on national issues, but women are not. Women are referred to as average citizens.

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It is undeniable though that over the years, finding women’s issues in newspapers has improved. Today media is alert and women’s issues are assigned weightage by giving adequate coverage.

Researches stressed that “Women Issues” are written about, but one of the things that have gone wrong is that these are written with such stringency and militancy that the reader does not read them. And as a result of this, the newspaper carries lesser articles on women. It is implied that coverage of women’s issues, in print media is not adequate and not without its set of cultural biases. And even after the strides that women journalists in India have made, much remains to be achieved. These cultural biases in media, in general, will take time to completely vanish. Meanwhile, certain approaches can be made which can go a long way in eradicating gender biases and help bring in certain levity where women will have their due place without having to offer any justification to occupy.

In addition to the same, Anklesaria (1996), also expressed, that newspaper project stories of atrocities on women like rape, etc. and never bother to project women achievers. The reasons she recounts are that. “There are so very few women committed to women’s issues and then so little is written about them. And if as a journalist, you cover only women’s issues, it sometimes turns against you. You are slotted and never given any other beat”. Thus to conclude, on the part of journalists, “Self- Restraint” is a must, particularly on women’s issues. Otherwise, there is a danger of sensationalizing reports on atrocities on women. Women should change the stereotypical images in all spheres and thus the change will be reflected in media. Also, women should build a positive image in society by becoming more aware of the surrounding, by raising voices against all odds, by encouraging other women for upliftment, by demanding women’s development in all spheres and by becoming more inspired and motivated.

Mainstream newspapers’ reporting on violence against women and girls is overwhelmingly incident-based, presenting this violence as a series of isolated events rather than a systematic social issue. Thematic reporting that explicitly challenges common myths about violence against women and girls describes the difficulties survivors face in seeking justice and provides information about support and resources for survivors, is very rare.

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However, the press coverage of women’s issues over the years has changed significantly with noticeable changes in the presentation of news and views in the context of expansion of electronic media and new consumer-orientations of Indian economy, increasing participation of media women in “hard” news areas of politics and economic, and changing strategy of the women’s movement. With the shift in the strategy of women’s movement from single issue- oriented, highly visible public campaigns centred around atrocities against women to low-key grassroots activism, there has been some dilution in the media’s coverage of women’s Issues. In summary, there is some visible space in the coverage of women and women’s issues in the print media. However,beyond the count of the words, stories, and column spaces, the underlying perspective is often superficial, simplistic and sensational. Nevertheless,progressive media professionals continue to work within these spaces to change the mainstream media.

The news is both a reflector and creator of social norms. If the Indian news media is to play a role in creating more informed gender norms, then the paradigm needs to crucially change from ‘crimes against women’ to ‘we’re all part of the bigger problem’.

Compiled and Curated by Azain R.

Maham Abbasi

Maham Abbasi is a graduate of, The University of Delhi, (Jesus and Mary College) currently pursuing  Masters in Women’s Studies from, The Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, working and writing extensively for women’s rights and issues.

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