Late last week, on February 14, Information and Broadcasting Minister of State in Union Cabinet Rajyavardhan Rathore created quite an uproar on social media with his statements pertaining to women in the media.
Rathore was addressing women journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in Delhi. According to a story on the wire service, Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), he stated that in view of safety issues, women scribes may be “better off pursuing off-field roles like that of news analysis as opposed to field reporting.”
The IANS story was picked up by almost every major media outlet, and took no time in going viral in the outrage chamber of Twitter.
Rathore, in turn, promptly slammed various media houses for misinterpreting his remarks. The minister sent out a series of tweets accusing the media for misconstruing his statements: “False false false”, “Totally false. Shame”, and so on.
Some felt Rathore’s denial was yet another poof of bazaru media maligning the Modi government and his minsters. While others felt his statements claiming misinterpretation were not enough and that the recording of the event should be put out to clear the air.
Meanwhile, India Today that also used the IANS story tweeted out an apology to Rathore. Some other media organisations like CNN IBN took off the story from their websites.
As it turns out, though, India Today and other media houses that reported on Rathore being misquoted on the basis of his tweets jumped the gun and tendered an apology too soon without basic fact-checking.
The IANS report was not exactly false. Newslaundry has obtained the recording of the IWPC meeting that makes it clear that the minister did in fact expound his views on how the role of women in media could be “far better utilised without actually going out in the field” considering security issues and odd timings.
Given that we are used to our politicians making pretty atrocious remarks when it comes to women’s issues, Rathore’s statements glow in comparison to some of the downright sexist comments we have been subjected to in the past. But they do point to the minister’s lack of understanding of how the media functions and betray a patriarchal mindset that puts the onus of safety back on women.
Rathore naively implies that women can achieve the twin goals of safety and job fulfilment by sticking to profiles in the print media that require more analysis without the need for “going out in the field”. Clearly, he has not picked up a newspaper recently. For, then, he’d know that most of print media too is filled with “field” reports, save the op-ed and edit pages that are dedicated to analysis. The idea of a journalist not venturing out in the field is unheard of unless they are on the desk editing. Even so, there’s no going around the odd hours.
In the context of working hours and conditions, Rathore then goes on to say “there is a degree of difficulty attached because as a mother, sister, and other roles that you [women journalists] all play”. To this, his simple solution again is for women to do more analysis “from whichever location you are in with the technology that you have”. Instead of, say, making the workplace more conducive for working mothers.
Rathore also talks about “areas like sports, battlefields, vulnerable areas, Maoist-infested areas”, which again pose difficulties for women to operate in. Ironically, he states this has more to do with mindsets than gender, but mostly stresses on women working around mindsets in his little address.
The incongruity of some of the statements he made were obviously not lost in a room full of journalists, one of who made a remark right after Rathore was done speaking: “You are little behind the times as far as women in the media are concerned,” she said. “About 35 years ago, I used to be the only business journalist in a group of men, and now in a press conference of business news, at least 50 per cent are women.” She also stated that the country has seen many women crime reporters, chief of bureaux and so on. To which Rathore responded that his constituency is Jaipur rural and he has not seen a single woman journalist.
Curiously, he did not raise an alarm about being misinterpreted. The IANS report that he claimed was false merely quotes from his address and even adds that Rathore stressed on the fact that his suggestions were free of bias. While Twitter may have given Rathore’s statements a sexist spin, IANS’ report on its own makes no such suggestion but merely reports on what the minister said.
“We stand by the story. You can speak to women present at IWPC and know what was really said,” said Kavita Bajeli Datt, Associate Editor, IANS. Datt also stated that none of the news organisations that carried the IANS story and later retracted it called up the wire service to check the accuracy of the story.
Indeed, faced with Rathore’s Twitter ire, news organisations simply chose to shift the blame on “agency” copy rather than spending a little time fact-checking. Not one organisation bothered to check with women journalists present at IWPC or IANS for the accuracy of the story. Clearly, a little “field” reporting would have helped.