Has media lost the plot?

Objectifying Women

On the 14th day of September, when a well known newspaper’s online desk tweeted a link about leading Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone revealing a certain body part during a public event, little did they know that it will turn into a full blown war of words and remain in media limelight for days to come. 

The incident drew sharp reactions from the actress herself, several other film personalities, women activists and usual twitteratis. Many saw the actress fighting for her right to privacy and consent before being used a ‘product’ for attaining more clicks on the story, others felt the matter got undue attention by local and international media and other pressing issues were ignored at the cost of this more ‘marketable’ issue.

For the common man or woman though, this was just another example signifying falling standards of India’s growing media industry, always finding ways to grab more eyeballs in a highly competitive market.

“Aaj kal toh jo bikta hai, wohi chalta hai” (Nowadays, whatever sells rules the roost), says Ratnendra Pandey, a journalist, adding that it’s a constant struggle for online mediums to get a larger audience share. 

“The most important thing in the digital medium is the headline of the story. I think the headline – OMG! Deepika’s cleavage show – was just an example of crossing the line of decency to sell the news.”

For Priyam Ghosh, a women’s rights activist and research scholar at Jawahar Lal University, the whole episode was representative of a patriarchal mindset and objectification of women in popular culture. 

“Ours is a hetero-patriarchal society and our media also reflects the same majoritarian view. While the national daily on one hand claims to be on the forefront of promoting gender justice, their reply promotes the idea of slut-shaming and objectifying women as commodities for selling news,” she says.

After the media house got slammed by vocal netizens on social media and their competitors in the industry, they brought out a front page article in Bombay Times, apparently trying to justify their act. The newspaper said that the actress, who had been a “calendar girl for a liquor brand” had in the past willingly posed for fashion magazines in revealing clothes, and was just raising the issue to get publicity for her film Finding Fanny. The justification seemed to have failed as much as their editorial policy. Their response drew even harsher reactions from all circles.

According to Ruchira Talapatra, a freelance journalist and filmmaker, the tendency of the media to market women as a product has been present even before, the ‘cleavage-gate’ just brought it into public eye. 

“Just read or watch the coverage about rapes in some of the leading media avenues. It is like somebody’s personal tragedy is used as a platform to get more TRPs. Media is not different from the typical Indian society, which is male-dominated.”

Dr Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, says that media and advertising often cross their boundaries in order to pander to male minds. 

“Women’s bodies are presented in a tantalising way to please the male mind. It not just violates the dignity of women, but also indirectly creates a culture of disrespecting women. Media has to acknowledge women’s rights over their own bodies. On the other hand, I feel that models and actresses live on the social edge between decency and indecency, and it also motivates public mediums to use them without fear of backlash”, says Kumari.

This is not for the first time that media has received criticism for their handling of an issue of privacy. 

Recently, when a national award-winning former child actor was caught in a prostitution racket, the whole media published not only her name, but her whole biography and personal details as if that was somehow in the best interests of the nation and the society.  “Media is like any other industry. We have sensitive people, and some who consider themselves as above ethics. Media is also full of incompetent people too. When a newsreader working at a country’s official news channel can pronounce the name of Chinese President wrong, you know something radical needs to be done here”, says Pandey.

Talapatra agrees. “Something needs to be done, surely. And it’s not just the TOI. When there are crucial matters affecting our lives like poverty, womens’ safety, domestic violence and even the rise of right wing communalism in the country, media seems hell bent on pleasing the audience by showing them what they want to see, rather than asking uncomfortable questions and raising real issues.”

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