By Padmini Vaidyanathan
Politics is war without bloodshed…War is politics coloured with blood….and newsrooms are somewhere in between…
It could have been anybody, pushed to the edge by consistent, cruel mind games. It was just unfortunate that it happened in public & hardly anyone bothered. Or perhaps it was just a conspiracy. Whatever it was, self-righteous News Editors were not spotted screaming their lungs out about the injustice – now that one of their own had opened Pandora’s box.
The attempted suicide by a female employee of a news channel due to alleged harassment should have jolted the very foundation of the Fourth estate. But as that female journalist lies in her home recovering from the trauma, her plight has been silently & perhaps conveniently been brushed under the carpet by most.
That newsrooms are tough to work in is an open knowledge. The deadlines, the competition, the breakneck speed at which news is processed & delivered is hardly breaking news. Tempers are frequently lost, newsroom squabbles are common, editorial differences often arise. To succeed in this environment one needs to develop a thick skin, have oodles of patience and insatiable drive to succeed. And here is where it gets downright ugly in the Indian Media – There are no boundaries where the tempers, squabbles & yelling stops.
As a woman & having worked in 4 different news channels in the last 9 years, I can safely say that the ugliness is many folds higher for our clan. If you can’t survive the “work culture” which violates many labour laws & in several countries will be deemed harassment, you are called weak. Attrition rates are alarmingly high in an industry that is not very old. And it is not that women can’t stand the onslaught. I did for several years, I know many fine minds who did it for longer & are still bearing it. Yes – most of us put up with it, change channels & when it gets too much – even change careers. And the number of bright, young, hardworking women who have done that in the last few years are too many to fathom. But most of us kept quiet.
And I am not suggesting here that men aren’t subjected to this mindless abuse. Or that women don’t abuse. It is a vicious circle, when you’ve stayed long enough in a place to make a career, one conditions themselves to survive. Most people who have worked in a newsroom will tell you that there is absolutely nothing one can possibly learn from the constant yelling & screaming. Most of the anger stems from missing a breaking news, not getting a story first, a typo etc. If anyone tells you it is just tough love – it isn’t. It is not tough love to get personal with your colleagues, to drop the f-word, the c-bomb or any other insult. It is humiliating. It is unprofessional. It is heart breaking. It is not tough love.
On an average, an employee of a TV news channel spends anywhere between 12 to 15 hours a day at work. He/She is there most weekends, holidays, Diwalis, New Year’s eve – working. We work all hours, early mornings, late nights, double shifts – as required by the news flow. Most of us spend more time with each other, than with our families. And that should lead to forming strong bonds,a sense of camaraderie. Often it does. And that is why, when you are let down by those closest to you – it hurts more. And that is how perhaps the female journalist felt when she decided to take the extreme step. It is the extreme competitiveness, often many would argue encouraged by the management, that leads to the negativity thriving in a lot of newsrooms.
Competitiveness breeds excellence, yes. But in this relentless, 24/7 mayhem that newsrooms are, the residual properties that success leaves behind is not just unpleasant, it is harmful.
When Soumya Vishwanathan, a journalist with a prominent TV channel was found shot dead, there was a massive uproar. There were questions raised about safety, late hours at work etc. The industry could afford to question – they were not the offenders then. When Preity Zinta accused Ness Wadia of harassment last week, TV channels went all out. So, why the silence now? Why not accept & work towards a systemic change, before it is too late?
The Tarun Tejpal case was an eye opener to one aspect of harassment that exists in the media. But the more rampant, the less talked about aspect is the utter unorganized Banana Republics that most newsrooms are. It is an open secret in the industry & that is perhaps the reason why no Editor-in-Chief got his/her knickers in a twist today. Yes, it is hard to see dirt in one’s own home.
But here is what you – , the exposers of corrupt politicians, the crusaders of the down-trodden, the fighter for people’s rights, have effectively achieved today – You have set a precedent for this industry of ours to grow into the hypocritical pits of darkness – with no morals, no values, no sense of right & wrong. Every starry eyed, passionate fresher who walks into your newsroom is going to think it is okay to use cuss words, to scream at the silent, to break tables & bang chairs, in fact they will consider them as requisites for succeeding. We will have journalists who will easily fake outrage at injustice. Journalists who will fake sympathy for the society. There are some Editors who still believe in ethics, in treating employees as equals- but they are a vanishing tribe.
Maybe there will be calls for stringent laws, new legislation to make newsrooms safer for women. And yes, right now they are needed. But what is also needed is RESPECT. Ensure women in your organizations get the same respect, that you fight for in your 9 PM debates.
“Waking up in the morning with shattered dreams is like death for the people who have given their whole life, & struggled throughout the life to achieve their goals..” This was the suicide note of the female journalist.
Read more here- http://www.thenewsminute.com/stories/A%20TV%20Journalist’s%20open%20letter%20to%20Indian%20news%20editors