Irrespective of their personal or professional opinions about Republic TV, the members of the NBSA and the media fraternity at large should have spoken in favour of the reporter and denounced the incident.
In three unrelated incidents across separate months, reporters from prominent English news broadcasters were heckled, gheraoed and finally escorted to safety by police personnel, and thereby prevented from covering a story. For one of these incidents, the reactions from the extended media fraternity were surprisingly different than they were for the other two.
In the first incident, which occurred at Anupam Kher’s ‘March for India’, in New Delhi, a journalist with NDTV faced a tough ordeal. In the second incident outside the Aligarh Muslim University, an India Today correspondent was forced to stop airing an interviewee’s positive response to the abolishment of triple talaq. In the third, the most recent case, a Republic TV journalist, Shivani Gupta, was harassed by a hostile crowd, mostly of men, at a Jignesh Mevani public meeting. Each of these incidents were captured on live television.
In incident one and two, a large section of media expressed solidarity with the reporters without a second thought. In the third case, however, one that found its way to the doors of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA), no such decency was shown.
Instead, the authority formed by the media fraternity and tasked with maintaining content standards of broadcasting effectively negated the very obvious intimidation meted out to a member of its professional community.
The NBSA in its order noted:
NBSA viewed the CD and carefully considered the arguments. The footage does not show use of any objectionable words by the complainant or any gesture which can be described as “lewd” or “threatening”.
It should be noted here that the ‘complainant’ in this case was a person at the Mevani public meeting who had complained against Republic TV. The channel, on its part, has filed its complaint with the Delhi Police.
All of this begs the question – what would prompt this incident to be treated differently by the media fraternity? The obvious answer is that the reporter in question works not with any other channel but with Arnab Goswami's Republic TV, a network whose existence is known to have caused heartburn to its mainstream media competitors.
Irrespective of their personal or professional opinions about Republic TV, the members of the NBSA and the media fraternity at large should have spoken in favour of the reporter and denounced the incident. Yet, they set a dangerous precedent to the cause of media in India.
Through its actions, or the lack of them, the NBSA has ensured that the victim is not just Shivani Gupta of Republic TV but the larger community of aspiring women media professionals. Women in all professional fields face unique challenges in comparison to their male counterparts. Which is why, it is the duty of industry bodies and professional communities to show gender sensitivity, especially at a time when the world is normalising gender diversity in more professions than ever.
Media is one of the professions that require field work, sometimes in emotionally charged and physically dangerous situations. To be intimidated, harassed, heckled by hostile crowd of mostly men, and maintain your own calm and professionalism can be difficult for anyone, and more so for a woman. I wonder if women in such situations seem like an easy target for disagreeing with men or that a tough and dissenting question coming from a woman becomes a cause of hurt ego and therefore unruly behaviour. Irrespective of its cause, the incidence of such behavior must be unilaterally condemned. The media community at large must stand by its women and show zero tolerance towards those who take the liberty to misbehave around a female reporter.
In this case, the NBSA and the larger media ecosystem has done the very opposite. It has alienated the Republic TV reporter, who had to undergo a tough and threatening situation. And to add further damage, it has completely dismissed the gravity of her ordeal despite there being enough video proof. Think about the message that is going out here – a woman media professional’s safety and opportunity to work is not as important as settling petty scores with broadcasters one doesn’t agree with. This is a step back for the cause of women’s safety, and for that, we must be offended with the NBSA’s actions.