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“Women must develop a thick skin in order to survive in the media:” Barkha Dutt

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MUMBAI: Veteran journalist Barkha Dutt, who recently stepped down from her post as NDTV group editor to start her own business venture, said that in order to survive in the media business, women should develop a thick skin.

Speaking at the launch of FICCI Women in Media Forum, Dutt specifically addressed women journalists and said, “There are two key things that you should keep in mind. One is that you have to perform better than the men and secondly, be prepared to be scrutinised or even being deconstructed in the media room. Develop a thick skin in order to survive.”

Dutt spoke on the role of women in the Indian news room space and shared some key insights from her own experience. She began her keynote about the role and depiction of women 20 years ago in the industry. “I want to talk about my mother’s generation working in the media. Today, we are not the norms but the exception. When my mother was 19 years old and walked into Hindustan Times asking for a job, the then editor told her that there was no space for her in the media room. After persisting, she was told that she would get to cover a flower display show in Delhi. She later went on to head the news bureau,” Dutt said.

Sharing an interesting anecdote, Dutt, who is synonymous for her coverage of the Kargil War, said that it was her mother who should be given due credit. “During India’s war with Pakistan in 1965, my mother took a few days off and went to cover the war at the war front in Punjab. She did this after she was not allowed to cover the war by the newspaper. In Punjab, my mother sent dispatches back to the news paper desk, which got featured prominently,” Dutt shared.

Moving on to her own experience, Dutt said that in 1999, the army was uncomfortable with a woman at the war front. “They were not comfortable protecting a woman. I told them that if soldiers were going to go behind a rock and use it as a loo, so will I. Today, we women journalists want to be judged for our work as journalists,” she stated.

Dutt also mentioned that while today there were many women journalists, she could not even name 10 women editors or CEOs in the news room space. She shared insights of a UN survey, which analysed profitable film industries world over. “One third of the screen space or less was given to women in speaking roles in Bollywood. However, India did well in sexualising women.”

She highlighted how disparity in wages existed in Bollywood. “Why didn’t Kangana Ranaut get the same profits that her male contemporaries do even after performing well with a film like Queen? Why is Anoushka Sharma questioned if she has got a lip-job done, while the male actors are not asked if they have resorted to botox?” the popular TV anchor reasoned.

In conclusion Dutt said, “I sit here as a 43 year old and with 20 years of journalism experience and I look at it in dismay. There is a certain kind of glamorising of journalism that is taking place in the studio today. How is it that the three Khans of Bollywood are going strong enough at 50 years but not a single actress over 40?” she implored.

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