Journalists regulating journalists

BY B JAYASHREE| IN Media Practice | 25/09/2015
Wardrobe malfunction and below the belt stories (literally) about women and their clothing are not new, but this particular story triggered a chain reaction from within the media itself.
B JAYASHREE reports

 

Convenient, easy to maintain and versatile – that’s how leggings are promoted. Now, however, across Tamil Nadu the simple piece of clothing has created a furore and an entire morality-gender–media debate, thanks to a tabloid cover story. Kumudam Reporter placed on its latest cover story a generous display of women’s derrieres, as their kurtas fly in the wind and they sport colourful leggings, with the caption– “The obscenity of leggings; youngsters cross limits.”

In less than 48 hours after the story hit the stands, there was furore from the activists of course, but the manner in which media houses took on the well-established media group was what marked the difference in what could have been just another case of media voyeurism. Dozens of news reports appeared (see links below), making international headlines even, as they unabashedly took the side of gender sensitivity, rather than media loyalty. The agenda was partially spurred on by outraged women journalists, but the story got past gatekeepers and editors–male and female- simply because it was turning into a justified cause to pitch for; ironically like their cover headline it was the magazine that had crossed limits.

While the Kumudam group of publications caters to a cross-section through its general interest, women’s and even spiritual magazines, the “Kumudam Reporter” from this group, tends to exhibit a sensational, tabloid style, often offending, but then, that was the style till now, when they seemed to have bitten off too much. Kumudam has not apologised or regretted the story, seeming more intent on avoiding further controversy, rather than explaining their stand.

Wardrobe malfunction and below the belt stories (literally) about women and their clothing are not new, but somehow somewhere, this particular story triggered off a chain reaction. The fact that women wearing leggings had been photographed without their knowledge as the wind blew up their kurtas was one reason.

It also came close on the heels of outrage over “guidelines” issued for girl students of an engineering college with a hard-to-believe list that included the now much-maligned leggings.  Perhaps, it was also the opacity with which the Kumudam group did not respond to calls or try a quick back-track soon after the initial furore that contributed to the fire as well.

It probably also had something to do with the brazenness with which some still voiced their views that there was nothing particularly wrong with the story and leggings did make men ogle. The story in fact, explains that women should understand this story was being done out of concern.  It spelt out condescendingly the weakness of men when it came to women, and entreated them not to wear leggings and provoke males, the kind of content, which is hard to believe someone would seriously publish!

Before the media stories ran, spurred on by heated discussions from women journalists & activists, the magazine was pulled up on social media and a petition on change.org calling for them to apologise received hundreds of signatures in less than a few hours. The message was clear – enough was enough. For women used to the concept of men peeing in the open as a birthright,the attack on a common article of clothing probably was the last straw.

The benefits or demerits of leggings aside, the manner in which, so many media houses, instead of fighting shy, took a stand on this issue,criticizing the Kumudam Reporter story, is really the interesting spot in this whole episode. Surely, this is not the last of such stories emphasizing women as physical objects. However, it has awakened people to the fact that it is possible to limit this trend in the media, from within the media itself. A day after this furore, a major national media house put up very briefly a story on a celebrity’s clothing which was derided and immediately withdrawn.

There have been many discussions on the need for regulating news in India. Even as we are reluctant to accept any external control, the Kumudam Reporter story and its aftermath slew of media stories indicates that regulation already seems to be happening, only not in a way that might have been envisaged. It is regulation from within – from other media houses. Journalists seem to have proved that they can be effective regulators over other journalists.

 

Newsreports which appeared 

Firstpost calling the cover “sexist

India Today calling the story “regressive

Tehelka describing the article as vulgar

The Huffington Post questions the magazine’s story on crossing the limits

News X on the story with anchor and reporters taking on the magazine for its views

The News Minute taking on the morality angle of Kumudam

Hindustan Times a one-sided story on the reactions against the article:

The Change.org petition asking the tabloid to apologise that now has nearly 13,000 signatures

 

A former journalist, Jayashree is a Principal Scientist with M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, heading their media resource centre. Views expressed are personal.

Email id: emailjayashree@gmail.com Twitter: @jai_amma

 

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