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Interviewing Across the Globe

A talk with an Indian journalist

by Marlena Chertock

“Challenges come, face them as they come; that’s the way it is.”

Shaili Chopra is a correspondent for ET Now (Economic Times), a business channel in India. She reports on business stories, corporate behavior, political policy and economics.

Q: What is the state of press freedom in your country?

SC: I think it’s pretty strong in India because it’s one of the world’s largest democracies. There is also a great sense of respect for the press in India. There’s a market balance because there are so many channels in India. It’s a very vibrant market right now in India. There’s a mushrooming of channels because television and especially satellite television has not been extracted to the fullest. We have new channels. We are a country of a billion people and therefore, even if a couple of people are watching a channel, you might still do well. So I think the state of press freedom is pretty strong.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for women journalists in your country?

SC: There are important challenges that women journalists face, and I’m guessing to an extent that male journalists face. Journalists do not have access to safety measures. They risk reporting; a lot of them do not get a chance to take basic safety standards when they are going out in conditions to report. For example, if I was going out to report in an area where there are billions of mines in India, there would be fear around me because [people] are aware that I’m not protected. I was reporting on a seriously dangerous [story], the biggest terror attack ever in India, in 2008. But I was still a business journalist. I happened to be the first woman journalist to report from the Taj terror site. And when I started reporting, I reported for 72 hours nonstop. I was barely 200 yards away from where the actual event was unfolding, not knowing if they could chuck a grenade and it would be over. There is no premium on precaution. …Journalists are inspired by the passion. Just because they want to report and be a journalist, you have to be cautious you are not putting your life in jeopardy. I think there’s no security system in India for journalists. It is worse as a woman because it makes it harder to gain access to places.

Journalism in India is male dominated to an extent, but the ability for men to go into the field is much higher. But women are making strides. Six, seven years ago I would believe there were not too many women reporting. Today there are. They’re not only holding important positions in media organizations, but they are also doing reporting. Women flourish in journalistic things such as business, social, environment, sort of across the board. I don’t think one can say it’s skewed. As a nation it’s skewed, because as a nation we still have a gender bias; there are people who are still not educated. But not necessarily in journalism anymore. Women are really at the forefront. There are no suppressed conditions; that is not something one finds in India. India is a democracy; … it’s just a question of how they make their mark like it would be anywhere else. Most women journalists would like to believe they are equal to men journalists for sure.

On a scale of one to 10 in the world [of women in news rooms] if you look, we’re probably six and a half to seven. If you look at the ratio of women to men in journalism in India it would probably be 50/50. Journalism across the country, I would say 45 percent women, 55 percent men. Print is where a lot of men work. There are women, but print is definitely a male-dominated place. And in regional media and non-English speaking media, it’s a male-dominated space.

Q: How do you and other women journalists face these challenges?

SC: Journalists in India in the moment, I don’t think they have a rulebook to follow. Each one follows their own ways of doing it. Because you just have to be cautious. At every point in time every journalist thinks about the story and the impact of the story instead of the safety. Most journalists do not follow a rulebook, they just take it by themselves as they can, everyone is as cautious as they can be. There is no organization that can help you on the subject. Challenges come, face them as they come; that’s the way it is.

If you are going to a forest kind of region to try and report as best, you could probably take some support like from an NGO or the government, depending on what kind of reporting you’re doing. It’s about finding a way around it with the right people.

I think I can report accurately and honestly and then I can make a difference, so that’s definitely my passion. Passion, and also the fact that I’ve been one of the few women able to report and consistently report, certainly more than 10 years ago. …Economic, social, cultural and behavioral impact makes me go on wanting [to be a journalist].