TV reporters turn crude voyeurs

BY RAKHI GHOSH| IN Media Practice | 26/07/2016
In reporting sexual harassment in the film and TV industry, Odisha’s news channels highlighted sex-for-favours but showed insensitivity towards the victims.


The media in Odisha have done a good job of highlighting the recent casting couch scandal in the film and entertainment industry but the insensitivity on display while covering women’s issues has been disappointing. The way the story was covered and the way TV debates were conducted showed that the desire to grab viewers was stronger than the desire to cover the issue sensitively.

First, though, the scandal.  Tatwa Prakash Satpathy, popularly known as Papu Pom Pom, is a comedian-turned-politician of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (he has since been expelled from the party). He is currently in jail for allegedly sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl in return for giving her a role in a film. A few other young women struggling to make their way in the Odia film industry have also made the same allegations of casting couch behaviour against Papu Pom Pom.

In another case, television actress Sharmistha Priyadarshini filed a police complaint against six persons in the entertainment industry alleging that they asked her for sexual favours to give her roles in serials and films: event manager Bapi Jena, producer Subrat Nayak, director Tapas Sargharia, director Chandi Parija, and Nihar Samal, husband of producer Bini Samal. The sixth was Bini Samal herself. Sharmishtha alleges that she repeatedly said to Bini that she was facing misbehavior there but she had not taken it seriously,  so the actress finally decided to file the case.

 The following extract of an interview on Kanak TV,  a regional news channel, shows the insensitive handling of the issue. The reporter is interviewing a young woman  who has complained (though no FIR has been registered) that Papu Pom Pom asked her for sex in return for a role in a film.    

Reporter:  How did you meet with him and what was his behaviour?

Victim: I met him on a reality show programme where he (Papu Pom Pom) assured me to offer acting in films. After that he started inviting me to accompany him on stage shows. Once, while going for a stage show, on the way to Pattamundai in Kendrapada district, he said if you agree to spend one night with me, I will offer you a chance in films.

Reporter: What he did with you inside the car?

Victim: On the way he repeatedly told me to compromise with him. I can’t tell you in front of the camera but he told me to stay one night with him. He even forcibly tried to hug me and kiss me. When I shouted and threatened to jump from the car, he stopped and dropped me at home.

Reporter: You have worked in his film, has he ever misbehaved with you on the shooting set?

Victim: Yes, he used to misbehave with me, forcibly hugging and kissing me. When I strictly denied him, he stopped.  

Reporter: Has he touched you inside the car?

Victim: He forcibly touched some of the private parts of my body and forcibly tried to kiss me.

Reporter: What kind of compromise he wanted from you?

Victim: He was telling me to go to hotel, keep relations with him. He said if you make me happy I will give you a chance in films.

Reporter: What kind of happiness, he wanted physical relation?

Victim: Yes, he wanted physical relation with him.

The reporter has repeatedly kept probing with the same questions even though early on in the interview, the woman has explained what happened. The intention is to sensationalise by harping on the same topic in a salacious manner.

In another panel discussion on the same news channel, the anchor, who is also a senior journalist, instead of noting her courage in speaking out, asked Priyadarshini: “When there are so many women working in the industry, why suddenly all the directors are targeting  you to be their bed partner?” 

A journalist on condition of anonymity says, “Today’s younger journalists are insensitive towards women’s issues. News heads who are the decision makers in media houses are running after a rat race grabbing more viewers by making it more sensational. They feel viewers appreciate these kind of questions, but they have never asked viewers whether they like to listen to such interviews or not. The media has an ethics and while reporting such issues they should not forget this”.

Another journalist and media person on condition of anonymity adds, “In Odisha, media persons are doing interrogation journalism in front of the camera by acting as lawyers or police officers. They should not dilute the case by asking such questions and harass a woman in front of the camera”.

Sexual harassment at work is a commonplace in the industry. In interviews, anchors should have asked producer Bini Samal, who has repeatedly said that nearly 200 technicians and artists work in her production house – mostly young women - whether she has set up a workplace harassment cell or not?    

Bijay Ketan Mishra, senior journalist and Resident Editor of the Political and Business Daily in New Delhi, says: “It is definitely a good thing what the media did by unearthing such an issue. Many young girls who dream to make a career in film and television industry fall prey to such incidents and very few muster courage to speak out. I appreciate the guts of the young girl who filed an FIR against those who ill-treated her. However, I still feel while reporting such sensitive issues journalists need to have gender orientation. The TRP hungry journalists should resist asking questions which would lower the dignity of a young girl. They need to be more cautious while reporting and moderating”.

Senior journalist Sandeep Sahu, who heads Odisha’s highest TRP news channel, OTV, says “Sometimes due to lack of knowledge, with a wish to grab more viewership and run after an unhealthy competition, journalists are unknowingly violating the law and ethics of journalism”.

The casting couch scandal has merely highlighted a persistent inability to treat gender issues with understanding.  The problem is that news heads and those who are the decision-makers suffer from a patriarchal mindset which makes them treat women as objects. They need to learn to re-orient themselves and their approach to this subject.  


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