“Media in whatever form one looks at it portrays women in a debased and demeaning manner. She is used for titillation, viewed as a set object, if not, she is portrayed as a spineless being, train and fragile to boost the ego of macho men or the ever suffering Sita incarnate.” said Asha Ramesh, Editorial Secretary of Joint Women’s Programme, New Delhi.
It was to protest against this negative attitude of the media that a group of women activists joined together and formed a committee called ‘Committee on the portrayal of women in Media’ in January, 1983.
This was the year of communication. Today it has representatives from 13 women’s organizations and several women from different spheres like academic, journalistic, medical students and so on.
It is further divided in to sub-committees, each of which is responsible for an in-depth study and critical analysis of a specific media with reference to women’s portrayal.
This committee has been doing commendable work since its inception. It has conducted demonstrations against obscene hoardings, marched down the streets of New Delhi shouting slogans against the use and misuse of women in media, blackened the obscene hoarding, staged massive protests against screening of soft porno films, presented memorandums to the Prime Minister and Information
Minister to review the portrayal of women in government control media like Television and All India Radio. All these efforts did get the necessary attention from the public and the press.
The Governor of New Delhi had issued orders that all soft porn films should be stopped from screening; all obscene hoardings should be removed and filed cases against the advertisers for the obscene hoarding by the police.
Unfortunately, these efforts remained limited mostly to the capital and big cities like Bombay, Chennai and Delhi.
A few media monitoring groups have been working actively to criticize sexism and obscenity in cinema, television and the print media, such as, Ahmedabad women’s Action Group in Ahmedabad, Media Advocacy Group in New Delhi and Women and Media Group in Mumbai.
They have organized some protests and achieved some results. On the whole, their actions have been sporadic rather than sustained but the efforts of these groups are important and commendable.
These groups critically analyze the images of women in media in the form of reports, seminar papers and feature articles. Another way is of direct protest against specific instances of sexism and obscenity.
Many other women’s groups not engaged in media monitoring have also voiced protests against pornographic films, vulgar hoardings and obscene advertisements.
Protests against radio spots propagating dowry resulted in their withdrawal by All India Radio. In the early 80’s, a number of bank advertisements used to dwell on the daughter’s marriage and son’s education theme.
But, then it changed to a picture of a bridal couple for a saving scheme having non-sexist caption, ‘save-for-our- children- marriage’.
The committee on Portrayal of women in the media collaborated with the centre for women’s Development studies and the government appointed panel on software for television, to draw up guidelines for non sexist portrayal of women in television images.
But, government does not have control over the portrayals of women in other television channels.
AWAG- Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group has been active as media monitoring group since the early part of the women’s decade. Its members have been working on the theme of sexist media images since 1976, criticizing advertisements, films, plays, textbooks, etc. They have taken a mobile exhibition around Gujarat to raise awareness about sexism in advertising.
AWAG’s analysis of sexism in Gujarati textbooks was favourably received by the state government authorities. The group has staged demonstration against obscene Gujarati plays, presented seminar papers and written articles on sexist images.
It was among the several women’s groups of Ahmedabad which successfully stalled the broadcast of a sexist play over All India Radio.
It depends on the values of media persons as to how media would treat the women’s issues. This again depends on the prevailing values in the society. Through subversion of the women’s issues, the media demonstrate their trait of opposing social change and maintaining the status quo.
Few media monitoring groups in existence cannot by themselves sustain an endless campaign against every bit of sexism that keeps coming up in the media. More people from the public and from activist groups in general should take up the watchdog activity.
For this some guidance is necessary on how to protest and to whom, so that effective action is taken rather than diffused general criticism.