The inaugural session on January 28 — chaired by Nirmala Lakshman, joint editor, The Hindu, and presided over by Abdul W Khan, assistant director general, UNESCO — featured reports on the year-long process leading up to the national workshop, including summaries of the activities and experiences of local collectives of women journalists formed in a number of places across the country in the wake of three regional workshops covering the south and west (Bangalore, November 2000), the north and east (Jaipur, April 2001) and the northeast and east (Shillong, September 2001).
A presentation showcasing preliminary quantitative data from a pilot survey on women in journalism provided a glimpse of the situation of women in the profession across the country. The two thought-provoking and inspiring keynote addresses — by Aruna Roy, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (on the Right to Information and the Media) and Dr Krishna Kumar, Delhi University (on Education and the Media) — helped set the tone for the entire workshop.
The afternoon of the first day saw participants breaking up into groups to discuss issues of particular concern to women in the media, which were identified during the regional workshops. Among them were issues relating to employment, working conditions, work assignments, harassment, and freelancing / stringing. The main points that emerged from these parallel group discussions were presented to and further discussed in the plenary the next morning.
A music performance featuring thumris by the well-known Hindustani vocalist, Vidya Rao, rounded up day one of the workshop. A panel discussion on key issues confronting the media, was chaired by Seema Mustafa, political editor, The Asian Age, during the pre-lunch session on January 29, the second day of the workshop. Subhashini Sehgal Ali (All India Democratic Women’s Association) spoke on Globalisation, Gender and the Media; Anuradha M Chenoy (Jawaharlal Nehru University) on Militarisation, Gender and the Media; and Tanika Sarkar (JNU) on Communalisation, Gender and the Media.
Each of their interesting and informative presentations was followed by lively discussions. In the post-lunch session, participants again formed groups to discuss issues of concern relating to the media vis-a-vis its role in society (which had also emerged from the regional workshops).
Among these were: economic liberalisation / globalisation and the media, the special challenges before small and medium-sized media establishments and sections of the language press, emerging priorities and preoccupations in media coverage, journalistic ethics and standards, and trends in the portrayal of women and coverage of gender issues in the media.
The outcomes of these group discussions were also subsequently reported back to and discussed in the plenary. A new documentary film (Hashiye Par Zindagi / Life on the Margin) — produced by the Violence Mitigation and Amelioration Project, directed by Arun Kumar, and focussing on the widows of political massacres in Bihar — was specially screened for interested participants on Tuesday evening.
The extraordinarily long second day of the workshop continued with a pre-dinner panel discussion on Women Covering Conflict, chaired by Harish Khare, deputy editor, The Hindu. Among the speakers who helped spark off discussions were Jill McGivering (BBC), Catherine Philip (The Times, UK), Padma Rao (Der Spiegel), Aasha Khosa (The Indian Express) and Barkha Dutt (NDTV). Since a number of participants had also covered conflicts of different kinds in different parts of the country over the years, an animated discussion followed their opening remarks.
The special dinner afterwards helped partially revive participants who had by then been on the go for nearly 12 hours! In any case, judging by their voluble, indeed vociferous, participation in the discussions on networking the next morning, they were none the worse for the wear! Two sub-committees had been formed on the first day of the workshop to begin discussions on the proposed national network (the idea of which had been unanimously endorsed during the regional workshops) and the desirability / feasibility of a website for the network (which was established through a questionnaire distributed to workshop participants).
The convenors of these made brief presentations during the morning session on January 30, the third and final day. What followed was an extraordinary, clamorous session during which everything — including the name, structure, fundamental principles and aims and objectives of the network (and each word of each of these!) — was hotly debated until some level of consensus was achieved.
A participant’s suggestion that the workshop could not conclude without issuing a statement based on the discussions that had taken place over the three days was accepted and another sub-committee was formed to draft such a statement over lunch. Other participants met over lunch in geographically-defined groups to select coordinators from each centre as well as one representative from each region to serve as the core group / coordinators of the network for a year.
The post-lunch session witnessed more spirited debate — this time on the draft statement (seeCharter). But, in the end, decisions were taken that obviously had the concurrence of most, if not all, the participants:
- The network was to be known as the Network of Women in Media – India (NWMI).
- It was to function as an informal, non-hierarchical organisation linked up with independent local collectives through coordinators (one for each centre where local groups exist, with the understanding that more centres and coordinators would join in due course) and a core group of five persons representing the five regions (northeast, east, south, west and north).
- This arrangement would be reviewed after a year and further decisions on the structure, mode of functioning, etc., would be based on the experiences of the interim period.