New Delhi: In an effort to make television programming more gender balanced and progressive, public service broadcaster Doordarshan has brought in a set of new guidelines on gender sensitivity. The 20-page document that was released by A.Surya Prakash, chairman, Prasar Bharti recently, is aimed at challenging gender stereotypes and inequity, and constructing a gender diverse and equal society.
“For the last eight or nine months, we had been pondering over the fact that while as a public broadcaster, we follow all the broadcasting codes, we were not very vocal about it," said Supriya Sahu, director-general, Doordarshan. “We did not have anything in writing that one could refer to if one were in doubt. Also, how do you actually set a benchmark on whether your programme is gender sensitive or not? So I wanted to do something which would create a benchmark and I’m very proud to say that the guidelines we have brought out are probably the first ones ever on gender sensitive programming anywhere," she said.
Broadly, the guidelines are inspired from constitutional provisions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and conforms to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986 and the Program and Advertising Codes prescribed under The Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 (Rule 6 and Rule 7). The Program and Commercial Code of Doordarshan also has such provisions. Sahu, together with Alka Malhotra, communication for development specialist at UNICEF and PN Vasanti from the Centre of Media Studies, drafted these principles.
The new code recommends that apart from regular shows, gender transformative ideas should be propagated through formats like promos, spots, quickies, jingles and programme bumpers. Channels of the Doordarshan network should increase the participation and involvement of both sexes in broadcasting as producers or decision makers.
Further, specific principles require that all programmes on Doordarshan should ensure equal representation of women and men as anchors, panelists or experts. It recommends that there should be an effort to ensure that programmes do not reinforce gender stereotypes. For example, men can be shown caring for children and the elderly at home and women could be going out to work -- basically both should be shown sharing personal and professional responsibilities.
Patriarchal ideas of society should be discouraged by featuring women who control assets, like house or land. Programmes should be sensitive to the religion, region, status and position of women and men, not objectify them with inappropriate and exploitative sexual imagery and ensure gender sensitive language. Female characters need not be the typical damsels in distress or scheming vamps, they should be equally competent in various spaces - be it home, work or in the community. Men, on the other hand, need not always be protectors. Sexual harassment of any kind should not masquerade as courtship, issues of women’s “purity" should not be discussed and traditional practices like fasting, child marriage, changing name after marriage, girls touching feet, male members performing last rites should not be glorified.
Besides including components of these guidelines in content acquisition and commercial advertising, there are proposals to conduct workshops for orientation of producers and undertake annual studies among audiences to understand the effectiveness and implications of gender sensitive programming.
“I’m not in a position to enforce these guidelines on private channels, but I’m very happy that Doordarshan has taken the lead to bring about something like this and I have no hesitation in saying it is something every broadcaster must do. Because you are talking about the women in the country and it is in our interest that girls are shown in an empowering role," Sahu said.