Veena George is at the peak of her professional life, being the first woman Executive Editor of a Malayalam news channel. This honour has come her way in the sixteenth year of her career as a television journalist.
Veena George spoke to The News Minute about her new role as the Executive Editor at Malyalam news channel TV News, her experience over the years, and the condition of women journalists in the industry. She has previously worked with Kairali, Manorama and Indiavision.
You are the first woman journalist to hold an important position at a news organization. How do you feel about it, how difficult was the journey?
I am extremely happy of taking up the responsibility of the Executive Editor at TV New. However, I did not quite notice that this is the first time wherein a woman journalist has been elevated to such a position, until people started to point it out. Even though it is indeed a great development, I wish to see it as recognition of my hard work over the years. Rather than tagging it as a woman’s achievement, I prefer seeing it as an achievement of a human being. However, it is quite surprising that this is the first instance in the history of Malayalam news industry, which could also point to the resistance towards women.
How difficult is it for a woman journalist to climb the hierarchical ladder?
It is certainly difficult, but not impossible. I say it is difficult because of the biases and prejudices a woman journalist has to face on a daily basis. It is an irony that media persons who are supposed to be objective, instead tend to be prejudiced and treat women reporters differently.
When I first started my career, it was not very difficult to understand that I was being treated differently in the newsroom. For instance, lighter assignments would be allotted to women reporters with the notion that she would either not be able to complete the task, or seek a male reporter’s help in completing it. When I began to host discussions, I used to be allotted topics of less importance, on a not-so-busy day. That itself is a direct professional discrimination and most often women reporters have to work harder than male reporters to put their point across.
This prejudice continues until the woman reporter proves herself capable of handling ‘serious’ stories. Unless this is done, media organizations do not tend to allot certain beats to women reporters. I identified this tendency earlier on in my career and took it up as a challenge to prove myself. Later on, I never had to face such discrimination.
However, it is difficult to not acknowledge a woman reporter in visual media. But, the bias is worse in print media, where we still don’t see the presence of many female reporters. They are being restricted to stories of women issues, and we don’t see much bylines being given to them.
How has television journalism evolved over the years?
Television journalism has come a long way, and a lot of changes have come up both in terms of technology used as well as presentation formats. Earlier, women’s representation in the visual media was limited to news reading and anchoring. But over the years, as television journalism itself progressed, the role of women reporters has gained prominence. Now, women reporters hold live discussions and a news bulletin is not merely news reading. Presence of mind is essential in the newsroom as a lot of on-air decisions have to be taken. TV New’ Kochi desk, for instance, has a majority of women staff. The case was similar at Indiavision channel.
From a half-an-hour news bulletin, we have come to a scenario where there are twenty four hour news channels. In the last five years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of news channels. Has it affected the quality of news?
There definitely has been an increase in the number of news channels which in-turn give rise to competition between different channels. However, the way the audience perceive news has also undergone changes over the years. What it has done to news is to create a scenario wherein no news or information will go unnoticed. Earlier not all news got enough prominence, but now it is not possible to omit out any news, truth will be told any which ways. However, I wish to see the increase in the number of news channels and the related competition with a positive angle, because more human interest stories began to be reported and it has no doubt helped in improving the channels, and in making the society open to news.
Over the years, news presentation formats has also undergone change. Audience demand that news be presented in innovative methods. How easy or difficult is it for a channel to do so?
Television journalism is not merely news reading. Channels these days come up with innovative campaigns to present news to the audience. Also, with new media gaining prominence, the role of media has shifted from mere informing the audience to an interactive method of news dissemination, by becoming more participatory in nature.
At TV New, we are trying to do just this: to move away from the conventional media, and with the help of technological advancements make the channel better.
How did working with three major television channels help you in your career?
When I joined Kairali TV sixteen years back, I was a physics post-graduate and was pursuing my teaching career. I joined the industry purely out of passion for news and back then, Kairali had a pool of good journalists. Professionally, Karilai had been a learning factory for me. Later in Manorama news, the professional conduct of the newsroom was a major takeaway. Importance to language and news sense was given importance. In Indiavision we enjoyed considerable freedom to work; the sky was the limit.
What happens to news in a channel that has political leaning and how does a journalist cope up?
Every news organization has its own policies and ideologies, which most often tend to be political. Therefore, it is a reporter’s call to join the organization he/she chooses to, by first understanding the policy of the organization. Though treatment of individual news stories will vary, it is important for any news organization to have a definite editorial policy.