Was the Indian media responsible in its coverage or did it sacrifice the credibility of the movement at the cost of speed and sensationalism?
In conversation with Amit Varma, Paromita Vohra, Supriya Nair, Vivan Schiller and Padmapriya Janakiraman discussed India’s MeToo moment, the media’s coverage of it and whether it really impacted the culture of misogyny in workplaces. Paromita Vohra is a filmmaker and writer whose work explores feminism, love and desire. Padmapriya Janakiraman is a film actor and part of the Women in Cinema Collective. Supriya Nair is a writer and editor, and writes a weekly column for the Mumbai Mirror. Vivian Schiller is the head of the Civil Foundation, an independent not-for-profit committed to the sustainability of trustworthy journalism around the world. Amit Varma is twice winner of the Bastiat Prize for Journalism and is host of the podcast The Seen and Unseen.
In 2018, India had its #MeToo moment, when several women came out on social media with accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment against powerful men in the media, the film industry and academia. The panelists felt that, despite the huge impact the movement had had, not enough was done to shine a light on the core issues. ‘The media covered #MeToo reactively,’ said Paromita Vohra. Supriya Nair thought that the media had been ‘lazy’ in their coverage, simply ‘reporting the accusations’ but not exploring the ‘deeper issues’. The reason, Nair believed, was because media houses did not think this would ‘get ratings past the first sensationalist headline’. Vohra did not believe that this was surprising and lamented a media that was and has always been ‘empathetic and sympathetic to men’. Vivian Schiller stated that, for media agencies in the US, there was a ‘hunger to find holes’ in #MeToo accusations, even though ‘less than 5%’ of accusations are proved to be false’.
Padmapriya Janakiraman spoke of the changes she would have liked to see: ‘Women stop feeling guilty for being harassed and society starts feeling guilty to have created an ecosystem that allows us to be harassed’. Janakiraman strongly criticised an established culture which ‘protects the perpetrators and their enablers’ while simultaneously shaming, discrediting and blacklisting victims and their supporters. Padmapriya mentioned how, after a traumatic rape of one of her actress colleagues by an established name in the industry, she, along with some other women, had formed ‘The Women’s Collective’ to look out for one another within the Kerala film community and had even called on the Chief Minister of the state with a representation of issues. She credited the South Indian press for having garnered much more coverage of the rape and of women’s issues in general than its North Indian counterpart.
Schiller noted that despite a large positive ‘movement towards greater representation and justice’, there was simultaneously a move towards more regressive values, especially in the US. Vohra summed up the media’s portrayal of women’s issues well, saying, ‘Unless women are raped or killed, they are not newsworthy.’ She added that this ‘overwhelming lack of serious reflection’, despite the courageous exposé of innumerable acts of sexual violence and harassment by victims of abuse, is what allows a culture of ubiquitous misogyny to continue’.