Oxfam India's latest workshop on 'Threat to media, Fake News & #MeToo'

Oxfam India's latest workshop on 'Threat to media, Fake News & #MeToo'

Oxfam India conducted a day-long media workshop on “Freedom of Expression and Threat to Media” under our gender justice theme. The event took place on 15th January and was jointly organised by Oxfam India and South Asia Women in Media (SAWM) in Patna, Bihar.

Oxfam India has been running a campaign on changing social norms with increasing violence against women and girls as the context. The campaign, ‘BanoNayiSoch’ challenges the social norms that perpetuate violence against women and girls in private spaces. It goes without saying that media is an indispensable stakeholder in the campaign. In the current socio-political context, it is felt that there is an increasing threat to media when it comes to reporting realities from the ground.

Freedom of Expression and Threat to Media

The objective of the workshop
The aim of the workshop was to invite prominent women journalists hailing from different parts of the country, media students from various colleges of Patna, social activists and entrepreneurs, and academics to engage in a much-needed discussion on issues pertaining to gender parity, fake news and the much talked about #MeToo campaign. Besides, it also set the context of the current scenario on freedom of expression and threat to media.

As per a press freedom barometer presented by ‘Reporters Without Borders’, India ranks 136 among 180 countries, one place above Afghanistan, in terms of World Press Freedom Index. The Hoot, a website that acts as a media watchdog released a report in 2017 titled “Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 2017” and covered various issues including those related to films, art, media, RTI activists. According to the said report, 11 journalists were killed, 46 were attacked, police cases filed against 27, 12 received threats for reporting in the year 2017. The most common perpetrators included police officials, political parties, political party workers, and political leaders. It goes without saying that freedom of expression and media threats is a burning question that needs immediate attention and urgent action.

​​Fake News: Emerging Trends

Here are some glimpses from the workshop.

Role of the Media
Ranjana Das, Regional Manager, Oxfam India discussed the importance to keep oneself abreast of the latest news so that one knows how the state/government has curbed people’s freedom of expression. Young journalists must be aware of all that is happening around them and the politics behind it all said Ranjana.

Ranjana added that on the one hand, there is a threat on some media houses on how and what they are reporting. On the other hand, there are media houses that are political and privatised. In such cases, crucial news from distant places does not get reported. Young journalists must bring news from far off places and get them published so that real issues receive the attention of the masses and the government alike. She also spoke about another campaign running in the present times, popularly known as #MeToo.

Shocking statistics on the threat to media
‘Free Speech Collective’, in one of its reports revealed that 2017 witnessed the murder of eminent journalist Gauri Lankesh and 11others, including Santanu Bhowmik (TV journalist in Tripura), Shujaat Bukhari (Founding Editor of Rising Kashmir), Kamlesh Jain (Journalist of Hindi daily Nayi Duniya in Madhya Pradesh), Shyam Sharma (Journalist in Indore, Madhya Pradesh), KJ Singh (Senior journalist in Mohali, Punjab), Rajesh Mishra (Journalist working for Uttar Pradesh-based Jagran), Sudeep Dutta (Bengali journalist), Rajesh Chauhan (Haryana), Rajdev Ranjan (Siwan-based journalist working with Hindustan), Naveen Nishchal, Vijay Singh, among others. According to ‘Reporters Without Borders’, from 2015 to the present, 10 journalists were killed for criticising the government. As per the findings of the National Crime Record Bureau, between 2015 and 2019, 142 journalists were victims of an attack. In Chhattisgarh alone, 14 journalists were sent behind the bars.

The report states that the country's governments are adopting repressive methods instead of safeguarding our freedom of expression. However, subjugation is not limited to journalists. Apart from social and political activists who oppose the government, theatre workers, human rights activists, cine stars, writers and others fall into a category that is fighting for the common man. They are being slapped with a legal notice, defamation, and sedition lawsuits. Strict restrictions have been imposed on our use of the Internet. Recently, ten agencies were authorised to monitor and decrypt the information on citizens’ phones, personal computers and other devices by the government of India.

Statistics reveal that up to 2018, media and citizen rights activists have been attacked at least 27 times. They are under constant threat of being targeted. Petrol bombs were thrown at journalists’ houses and women journalists became victims of threat calls and online trolling. 6 journalists, along with 3 foreign journalists were also jailed. As per the ‘Reporters Without Borders’, the world has witnessed a 9% increase in attacks on journalists. Apart from it, they also fall prey to political and religious disgust.

In 2018, 90 journalists were killed, 349 jailed and more than 60 were held, hostage. It is noteworthy that despite a considerable increase in the incidence of murders and violence, no convictions in these cases have taken place over the past 10 years. Dalit poet, Kancha Ilaiah and other prominent artists, writers, poets and cine stars have all been victims of such abuse and attack. Even the courts have had to deal with a number of queries related to freedom of expression between 2016 and 2017.

attacks on journalists in india

Our Constitution promises a secular, tolerant and generous society to each individual. Freedom of expression has been considered as the backbone of fundamental rights. With the Constitution under threat, we cannot guarantee the freedom of expression to our citizens.

Seetu Tiwari, a facilitator at the workshop mentioned that India today has 86,000 newspapers, 900 TV channels but it can't be said that the misery of the masses finds reflection in our stories. Noam Chomsky in his book “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of

Mass Media” published in 1988 claimed that political economy, corporate world and advertising are working towards one agenda and only one type of voice is being heard. “Similarly, India is a diverse nation with various thought processes and beliefs. However, only one type of view has dominated all forms of media, be it TV, newspapers or social networking sites,” said Tiwari.

Speaking of the threats being faced by media, she explained how regional media or those journalists working in districts are prone to receiving more threats. On the contrary, English media faces trolling a lot more than the vernacular media.

Harassment of women in Media- reference “#Metoo” campaign

Fake News: Emerging Trends
“Fake news can trigger the third world war.”

It is not just journalists who are being affected by the negative consequences of fake news but it has entered deep into the society and is affecting the masses too. What is fake news? We all know that it emerges out of false facts and figures but is structured in a way that it appears to be true. So we end up believing fake news. It is important that we grow aware of its effects since it is emerging as a big threat to the nation.

Rupa Jha, Head of Indian Language, BBC gave a detailed insight into what fake news means and how it is affecting our country. “With the general elections round the corner, fake news has become a major threat to our democracy and the entire world’s eyes are fixed on us.

Democracy gives us the freedom to make decisions, the right and the courage to ask questions, opportunities to participate in debates and the intellect to make decisions,” said Rupa. Fake news, however, affects our ability to take decisions by putting us in dilemma. Misinformation, disinformation is synonymous with fake news.

There is a simple tool check for fake news:

1. Spread confusion in the society- Carriers of false information spread rumours and confusion which helps fake news survive.

2. Atom of truth- Fake news is made up of a grain of truth based on several lies.

3. The perpetrators often blame the ones accusing them of spreading fake news- For instance, in 2016 Donald Trump was accused of many charges by newspapers and media houses, after which he started calling the media ‘fake news’.

4. Shameless audacity to spread such news- This leads to the common man becoming disoriented. This is why fake news is a great weapon in the hands of dictators.

Findings of a BBC research on fake news conducted last year showed that between 2014 and 2018, 31 people were killed due to fake news (number confirmed by BBC). It is thus, important to understand why a common man believes in fake news and why he spreads it. During the research, thousands of Twitter handles and Facebook pages were surveyed.

Harassment of women in Media
A panel consisting of Swati Gautam, Columnist, Leena, Editor, Media Morcha Dot Com and Dr Kiran, Feminist Activist, General Manager (Personnel), CIL Open House addressed a number of concerns regarding harassment of women in the media. Some of the broad questions discussed included:

1. In the context of our nation, us as a culture, what is #MeToo? From where did it emerge?

2. What is that one common element among all the #MeToo cases?

3. Why are #MeToo cases coming to the limelight after so many years?

4. How to save ourselves from #MeToo as a society?

According to Swati Gautam, #MeToo is not a revenge. “Today the movement that is being dubbed ‘#MeToo’ was earlier a form of sexual harassment that was expected to be endured and the one enduring it would consider herself as the ‘victim’ and the one doing it would consider himself ‘powerful’,” said Swati.

2 years ago suddenly a law student, Raya Sarkar did something phenomenal. She published a list of names of alleged harassers in academia, 73 in number and put it up on the internet. She mentioned that the names included supervisors and guides who took undue advantage of women working under them. In 2018, Priya Ramani alleged M J Akbar of sexual harassment. While working with the Asian Age years ago, she wrote about the harassment she had to go through. The next day another journalist, Ghazala wrote against him and the number soon reached 15. In response, M J Akbar filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani. While around 7-8 witnesses spoke in favour of him, there were 28 other women (apart from 15) who supported Ramani. They even gave it in writing that whenever the hearing of the case happens, 28 of them should be called so that they can express what they have to say.

After their cases came to light, allegations were levelled against senior, meritorious achievers in all fields, including Chetan Bhagat (writer), Dibakar Banerjee (film-maker), Jatin Das (painter), Kiran Nagarkar (writer and playwright) and Alok Nath (actor).

Common factors in the above cases:

  1. The perpetrator is often powerful and the victim is quite helpless and young. He uses his power and position to prey on helpless women who cannot speak up.

  2. Secondly, there was an absence of internal complaints' committees within organisations. Bhanwari Devi’s fight for justice resulted in the formulation of the Vishakha guidelines, a landmark judgment that made it compulsory for organisations and institutions across India to provide women with a sexual harassment-free workplace.

a) What gave birth to #MeToo?

After dozens of women in Hollywood came forward with sexual assault allegations against six-time Academy Award winner Harvey Weinstein, MeToo was born.
Looking at the history of how the powerful movement began, she elaborated that #MeToo was born after Tarana hashtagged the words (#MeToo) in the year 2006 for the first time. The rape of a 13-year-old girl prompted her to start a revolution. Also, she was a victim of sexual harassment herself (thrice).

In 2016, Alyssa Milano, an American activist and actor tweeted the phrase and surprisingly, the number of her followers on Twitter which was 2 lakh jumped to 4.7 million people within a span of 24 hours.

She then asked the literal meaning of the phrase Me Too? According to her, “my problem is your problem too. My disrespect is your disrespect too. My difficulties are yours too. You are not alone. This has happened to me too.”

In a recent social media post, a Jadavpur University professor, Kanak Sarkar likened a virgin woman to a ‘sealed bottle’. Such misogynistic comments from the professor resulted in protests all over. However, we need to understand that it is despite the presence of the Vishakha guidelines and internal complaints’ committees today at the workplace, the existing societal norms have not changed.

Way Forward
Anjita, a senior journalist working with Sahara newspaper summed up the discussion with the following suggestions:

  • The path to making media gender sensitive starts with a complete overhaul of social norms that discriminate against women and girls and promote patriarchy and toxic masculinity especially at the workplaces.
  • Working women and students must learn their skills. In the absence of proper knowledge, they can easily be exploited. In case they are harassed, they must have the courage to raise their voice.

  • Girls who will start working or are already working in places must demand the formation of an internal complaints’ committee at their workplace.

  • In case a woman gets exploited sexually, other women must be considerate enough to take it as truth and stand by the victim. They must also take the issue to the right platform. It is also important that the perpetrators are exposed and a social boycott of such harassers takes place. Women who have been sexually harassed must make sure they first confide in their families or a colleague.

  • Family members must also show faith and support their daughters, mothers, sisters and daughters-in-law.

  • MeToo is a revolution that has given women the courage to fight and it is not momentary but is here to stay.

  • It is time for women to come forward and to stop harassers and harassment.

  • The movement must also reach villages and not just remain limited to metros and bigger cities. The fight needs to be taken forward.



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