Second Mission to Europe: April 16-22, 2006

<font size="3">Second Mission to Europe: April 16-22, 2006</font>

<font size="2">ECCP Project: EU-India-Building Paths to Equality in journalism</font>

Report by M.L. Talwar, senior assistant, EU-India gender project

A delegation of 13 women journalists from different parts of India led by AINEF treasurer M. L. Talwar, visited three European capitals as part of the project EU and India – Building Paths to Equality in Journalism. The first delegation of 10 women journalists led by project co-ordinator Parul Sharma had visited Europe from February 6 to 12, 2006.

Reaching Brussels on the evening of April 16, the members of the mission had dinner with Nawab Khan, editor in chief of the news service India News in Europe Programme (INEP), also supported by the ECCP. Though the programme has ended, it is still being run on a voluntary basis. Major Indian newspapers like The Hindustan Times and The Times of India are among its 200 subscribers. The aim of the programme is to create awareness about the European Union (EU).

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White, welcoming the Indian journalists and underlining the importance of the project, said that although Europe was closed for the Easter holidays and the interaction with the EU officials could not take place, the delegation members would have an opportunity for discussions with their European colleagues.

The thrust of the discussions in the meetings in Brussels, Berlin and London was the disparity in pay, problems at the workplace like lack of crèche facilities, sexual harassment, working hours, collective bargaining and the issue of portrayal of women in the media.

Yves Clarisse, a special correspondent with Reuters covering EU affairs for the past 24 years, spoke about the structure and functioning of the European Union. He dealt with the crises facing the EU. With enlargement, the affairs of the EU were getting more complex: While six large countries account for 80 per cent of the population, 13 small countries can take decisions to which others have to abide. France and Germany may not accept for long this kind of an arrangement and without these two big countries, EU would be dead. He was asked several questions by the Indian team members relating to the general indifference in the media to the European Union work in India, working conditions of women journalists in his company, outsourcing by Reuters etc.

Indian participants had a mixed reaction on the issue of gender discrimination at the meeting in Brussels. While some said there was no such discrimination at all, others differed from this view. Arati Kapoor, Samyabrata, Sushma Jagmohan, Usha Pahwa and Rajalakshmi were categorical about there being no discrimination at workplaces. Meena and Rama, though they agreed that there was no gender discrimination in the matter of wages for equal work, said that there were other areas like portrayal of women where much remained to be done. Aditi talked about the social structure in the country, which sometimes forced women journalists to opt for softer beats that left them more time for family and home. Sushma Verma made a point by saying that the discrimination was blatant if you look at the newspapers. Only five per cent space was given to women’s issues. Unions are not of much help. Laws are there but these are hardly implemented.

Supriya, while agreeing with others that there was no discrimination in the case of wages and status of women generally, said the media had mostly negative reports about women. Even women colleagues sometimes did not support you if you had the potential to rise in the profession. Almost all delegates agreed that gender discrimination was not a very serious problem in the Indian media though most agreed this was the position at urban centres of publication only. In the regional areas the picture was not all that rosy. Sexual harassment and gender bias were rampant as Aparna Tambe said. While men were assessed on performance, women were assessed on compliance. Neelima also had similar views.

The afternoon was dedicated to the visit of the VRT studio. VRT is the Flemish speaking national broadcaster for Belgium and has a wide policy on diversity and gender equality both in the broadcasted programmes and at staff level. A presentation of VRT activities and policies regarding gender equality and diversity was made by Annemie Van Winckel, Manager for Radio 2 and Gianni Marzo, from the diversity department. A visit was then organised to the VRT newsroom where participants interacted with journalists.

The delegation spent the evening with Deepak Chatterjee, Indian ambassador to Belgium.

There were fruitful visits and meetings in Berlin. Nicole Sauer, one of the officials of DJV, the German trade union, dealt at length with the structure and functioning of the union. She informed the Indian delegation that there were about 70,000 full time journalists in Germany out of which 22,500 worked freelance. The Union, founded in 1949, had 18 state units and about 41,000 members. It is the sole collective bargaining agent for journalists. The monthly membership fee of the Union is 10 to 29 euros (equivalent to Rs. 550 to 1600), a whopping amount by Indian standards. Besides providing its members with legal support and advice, it provides a platform for networking, seminars and conferences to its constituents. The Delegates Assembly, the highest body of the DJV, meets regularly once a year to decide fundamental questions and programmes and every second year elects DJV’s federal board. The Union has several specialist committees, commissions and working groups. It has its headquarters in Berlin and another office in Bonn. Full time employees of the Union are responsible for the implementation of the decisions of the DJV boards and committees. Current areas of emphasis in the union are press freedom, control of mergers in the media, media ethics and journalists' training and education.

There was a visit to the Bundestag which all members of the team enjoyed and where they spent more than two hours. There was also an interesting visit to the Deutsche Welle (DW), a German TV news channel broadcasting news in 17 languages, including Hindi. The delegation was taken inside the studios, where useful interactions took place with journalists working for DW.

The visit to the left-wing newspaper TAZ (an abbreviation of TAGESZEITUNG or 'daily newspaper')was enjoyable. The only woman chief editor in Germany showed us a few copies of the newspaper with amusing headlines that drew home a point effectively. She told us that the newspaper never accepted pre-conditions for securing advertisements for the paper. However, it was sad to hear that the paper faced financial crises every now and then and had to depend on contributions from the readers and wellwishers.

A visit to the Indian embassy in the evening and a courtesy call on Meera Shankar, Indian Ambassador in Germany turned out to be a full-fledged meeting on gender discrimination with the Hounourable Ambassador making it more interesting with her personal experiences.

In London, Michelle Stanistreet and Sheila Pulham, the news editor at The Guardian, took the delegation round the offices of the newspaper. It was a good experience seeing a majority of women journalists in some of the departments. Later in an informal meeting where two more journalists joined us over a cup of tea, we were surprised that employees in a newspaper of the stature of The Guardian too had problems like many of us have from our managements. It was truly a learning experience.

The meeting in the NUJ office was another event where the visitors from India learnt a lot about the union functioning. Michelle Stanistreet and Barry Fitzpatrick responded to questions ranging from the membership of the union and the problems the journalists faced, to the help the union provided, including financial help to its victimised members.

Reflections on the Mission
Returning from the mission, the Indian women journalists had varied reactions. Most of them feel they had a good opportunity to share experiences with the European journalists. They found that many problems are common to Indian and European journalists. There are, however, some that were region or country-specific and therefore have to be tackled at that level. It would have been interesting to meet more journalists.

The most important issue that struck the Indian delegation was the disparity in pay for men and women in the European media. It surprised the Indian mission members that with such a large percentage of women in the profession and unions they were facing the basic discrimination of pay disparity in Europe. By and large, this issue was non-existent in India. This may be because tripartite wage boards decide this issue for newspaper employees in India and the country has laws supporting equal pay for equal work. Another serious challenge for women journalists in Europe that struck the Indian delegation was that they have to choose, at some point of time, between children and career advancement. Many Indian journalists were shocked at the discrimination that maternity brought in the course of women’s career. Indian mission members said there were laws in India guaranteeing equal pay for equal work and motherhood was not allowed to come in the way of career growth. The members felt that the European unions should take up this issue very seriously.

The visitors felt that there were some common problems between the journalists of the two regions and both seemed to be struggling to overcome these. The two can definitely chart common strategies for fighting these common problems. They learnt that even a newspaper like The Guardian in London did not have crèche facilities. They feel that Indian as well as European women in media need organisational support and counselling so that they can balance family without affecting their careers. For the country or region-specific problems, unions can be relied upon. The interaction has opened the doors to further communication. A joint strategy on common problems can be evolved.

Lessons Learnt
One of the important lessons that the Indian delegation learnt was the awareness of the European journalists towards unions and their increasing numbers in unions and leadership positions. Better still, they can build pressure groups to see that the laws concerning women at workplaces are implemented more strictly. These were lacking in India. Conditions in India are conducive to women playing a better role in unions but they appeared to be indifferent to unions.

European women journalists too can learn from Indian experiences. The close-knit family system, the social support for working women, the bringing up of children even in a challenging environment are things that India offers to the Europe. Even a large presence in profession and trade unions in Europe have not helped women journalists. Something somewhere is lacking. This is an issue for debate. Let there be serious discussions and outcomes. The discussions during the week must have driven home the point that Indian women have managed their roles very well at home and at the work places. The European women must fight and win the right to equal pay for equal work. That is the most important issue.

One common disappointment among the members of the Indian team was that they were not able to meet many women journalists. Apart from the Berlin leg of the tour, the members felt the trips to Brussels and London were not stimulating enough for a group of middle and senior level journalists from India.

On improvement of the future interaction between the two sides, the delegates felt that the present mission was urban-centric where the conditions of employment were rather more satisfactory. Let there be more members from the regional centres, in India as well as in Europe. The missions need to define their goals more clearly in terms of the exposure they wish to give to the Indian visitors. More interaction with full time journalists and trade union workers was emphasised by most of the mission members. Time should be utilised on charting out strategies for the common issues.

List of Mission members:

1. M.L. Talwar, Treasurer, AINEF, New Delhi

2. T.K. Rajlakshmi, Frontline, New Delhi

3. Arati Kapoor, Univarta, New Delhi

4. Supriya Aron, Press Trust of India, New Delhi

5. Neelima, Univarta, New Delhi

6. Usha Pahwa, Punjab Kesari, New Delhi

7. Sushma Verma, Dainik Hindustan, New Delhi

8. Aditi Nigam, Financial Express, New Delhi

9. Sushma Jagmohan, Times Group, New Delhi

10. Meena Rajendra Shete Sambhu, Sakal Daily, Pune

11. Rama Thambai, Deshabhimani, Thrissur

12. Aparna Tambe, Lokmat Times, Nagpur

13. Samyabrata Ray Goswami, The Telegraph, Mumbai

14. Rashmi Jain , Khabar Media Ki, Ujjain