By Renu Ramnath
A two-day meeting of women mediapersons in Kerala, organised by the Kerala State Women's Commission, was held at Thattekkad near Kothamangalam in Ernakulam district on 27 and 28 November, 2004. There were 25 participants, representing almost all the important media organisations in the state, with the exception of The New Indian Express, India Vision and Kerala Kaumudi. (The two newspapers, Chandrika and Madhyamam, do not have women on their rolls.)
The meeting was held under the clouded political circumstances in the state, and shadowed by the continuing attacks unleashed on the media by the police and political parties (something unprecedented in the history of Kerala). So, much deliberation had gone into even deciding whether we should participate in the event conducted by a government body, that too coming under the portfolio of P.K. Kunhalikkutty, whose alleged involvement in a sex racket was causing mayhem in the state. But, finally, the consensus was for participating, since it would give us a much-needed opportunity to meet each other and talk about many pressing issues.
The meeting was formally inaugurated by the commission's chairperson, M.Kamalam, in the presence of its members Lissy Jose, P.Kulsu and director Santharam IPS. V.J.Paulose, MLA, presided over the meeting. Dr. Jancy James, vice chancellor of M.G. University, Kottayam (the first woman vice chancellor in the state), attended the valedictory session and distributed the certificates. An interaction with women members of the local bodies around Kothamangalam was also arranged.
The get-together also paved the way for some intense deliberations on a wide range of issues concerning women working in the media in Kerala. Questions regarding the need, nature and possibilities of networking were deliberated upon. Finally, it was decided that networking was necessary, especially in view of the lack of opportunities for professional advancement that women face in a profession which is still largely a man's world.
It was also decided that the network would remain a strictly informal organisation. The aim would be to meet, at least in regional centres, once in a while and try to organise events, if possible. Four regional coordinators were chosen, along with a state coordinator. It was also decided that the coordinators should change after each meeting, so that the responsibility is equally shouldered.
The meeting provided a much-needed space for women to share their experiences and issues at the workplace. V.M.Deepa of Asianet News, Kozhikode, who was attacked by the Muslim League workers at Karippur Airport on 2 November, described her experiences.
Unfortunately, when the first day of the meeting was in progress at Thattekad, the police and workers of the RSP-(B) clashed with the media at Thiruvananthapuram. The police tried to arrest reporters after they took out a protest march to the RSP (B)'s office against party workers beating up the journalists. But the arrest attempt was foiled by the other reporters gheraoing the police van. The stalemate had continued late into the night.
In view of all this, the meeting adopted a resolution protesting against the rising incidence of atrocities against the media in Kerala. The resolution pointed out that such attacks were planned with the knowledge of those who occupy key positions of power.
The meeting also presented a memorandum to the Women's Commission regarding the working conditions of women employed in media institutions in the state.
The demands include
- making provision for accommodation for women working in media institutions since the ordinary working women’s hostels in the state refuse admission due to the late working hours
- ensure that women working in night shifts are dropped at their residences
- provide toilet facilities and rest rooms for women at work places
- take action against the steps of some managements which terminate the service of employees who take long leave including maternity leave
- make legal provisions for the protection of media persons including women against the increasing attacks against them
- bring the electronic media under the purview of the Working Journalists Act
- take steps to protect the jobs of media persons given the increasing trend of contract jobs in the media sector and ensure the setting up of anti sexual harassment committees in all media institutions.
The four coordinators are Saraswati Nagarajan (The Hindu, Tvm), Reshmi Reghunath (Mangalam, Kottayam), Geeta Bakshi (Freelancer, Kochi) and V.M. Deepa (Asianet News, Kozhikode). Renu Ramanath (The Hindu, Kochi) will act as the state coordinator.