It’s 2019, and manels continue to dominate TV news

TV news panels include six times more men than women, according to a survey by Network of Women in Media, India.

ByCherry Agarwal
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It’s 2019, and manels continue to dominate TV news
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On February 1, TV news was all about the interim Budget presented by the interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal. Anchors spoke about “Modi’s triple dhamaka”, sops for farmers and whether this would help the Modi government seize power in the 2019 elections. These Budget debates were almost always dominated by male panellists. Many of the leading channels failed to find women panellists for their prime time shows, 9pm-10pm. Some like Republic TV and Mirror Now had as many as seven panellists at a given time, all of whom were men. But this is hardly new.

Men outnumber women on TV news 43 to 7, a survey by the Network of Women in Media, India, revealed. In other words, TV news panels include six times more men than women.

Conducted over a month’s time (April 22 to May 21, 2017), the study analysed 2063 panellists and found that only 13.7 per cent were women. Of the remaining, 4 (0.2%) were transgender and 1,777 (86%) were men. The study, which examined programmes aired by 28 channels in 12 languages, also showed that in terms of gender representation of panellists, Hindi channels (23.5%) fared better than English channels (17%). The average for regional language channels is at a dismal 10%, the report stated.

Credits: NWMI

“It surprised me that the English channels were lagging behind,” Sonal Kellogg, independent journalist, who conceived and anchored the report, told Newslaundry. “My hypothesis was that the English channels would do well, but actually the Hindi channels performed better,” she said.

The language distribution of channels reviewed included six English, four Hindi and 18 channels in various Indian languages such as Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bangla, Odiya, Asamiya and Marathi. One prime-time news show and one top weekly talk show were reviewed for each channel; a total of 390 hours of programming was viewed.

The report shows that language-wise, Hindi, Gujarati, English and Urdu fare much better in terms of representation of women among panellists than Tamil, Punjabi and Odiya. Tamil channels were the worst performers with 5% women representation.

Credits: NWMI

Kellogg said, “Tamil, Bangla and Malayalam channels, these are supposed to be progressive states with high education. Yet Tamil channels have lowest women representation. And Malayalam and Bangla have representation between 9%-11%.” The reason for poor representation of women, Kellogg said, is that we have become too accustomed to listening to male voices when it comes to expert opinions, analysts and professionals. “We ourselves do not notice that the women are not there,” she added.

Giving an example, she said the representation of women is poor even in women-anchored shows. “Women anchors, who are senior journalists, even they don’t seem to be having either any say or haven’t figured out that there are hardly any women around. Which means they are so mentally accustomed to listening to male voices all the time that we don’t notice the absence of women,” Kellogg said.

The study surveyed the representation of women’s voices among anchors as well. According to the report, only 28 per cent (just a little over a quarter) of all anchors were women. However, when it came to anchors, English channels performed better in representing women. While they had an almost equal number of male and female anchors, Hindi channels have the least number of women as anchors. Regional language channels fared much better with 24% women representation.

Credits: NWMI

Why does this happen? Kellogg said, it isn’t that women voices are lacking, rather it’s just laziness. “You have to make the effort to go beyond the known, dominant voices. “It’s an easy way out to say that women voices are not there, but that’s not true.” Kellogg says we all are steeped in patriarchy which is why even we, women, do not notice dismal representation of women voices. “Automatically, you are looking for a male guy when it is subjects such as defence. I mean there are women defence analysts and foreign affairs. It’s not like women are not there in these fields. More efforts need to be made,” she said.

What does this say and how do we change this?

“The under-representation of women among anchors as well as panellists in most Indian television channels indicates that gender equity in the newsroom remains a distant goal,” the study states. It also shows that there is a lack of awareness and concern about the need for gender balance in news programming.

But how does one change this? Kellogg said, “We kind of need to start hammering this that ‘women are not there, where are we, where are the women voices’. It’s like we’re just not there and nobody’s even figuring out that we are not there. We need to hammer this to ensure people take note.” 

She added: “We could keep on doing these studies, and we could keep on urging people to…call out every manel. And also ask men to join us, why should always we be the ones screaming humari voices nahin aa rahi hai. Even men should be saying, “I refuse to come to such a panel where there are only men, we want everyone to join in.” Once we all start noticing and raising our voices, slowly change will begin.”

Apart from conscious efforts on the part of channels to ensure adequate representation of female experts in various fields, the study recommends that anchors ensure due time is given to female panellists to speak. Anchors need to ensure that women’s voices are not drowned out by shouting male panellists, nor silenced with insults and attempts at shaming, the report states. The report also recommends that senior female anchors should be retained on air just as senior male anchors continue to appear even as they age.

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