New initiative seeks to improve LGBTQ news coverage in India
In journalism, words matter. They can heal, hurt or excite. Journalists report stories with facts and context that carries emotions and truth about an event.
The world is changing, and inclusion matters in the changing world. But what if, in the changing world, the journalists who report stories that shape our perspective about LGBTQ people do not use the appropriate terminology.
Three India-based news outlets, the News Minute, and partner organizations Queer Chennai Chronicles and queerbeat have started a new initiative to help Indian news media become more inclusive while covering LGBTQ stories.
The project will publish a guide, glossaries, workshops and fellowships for Indian journalists. The Google News Initiative is supporting the project in the country. According to the press release, the project will rollout in a phased manner, starting with the translation of the existing glossary of LGBTQ terms into local languages.
Mainstream newsrooms in India often misidentify LGBTQ people and use incorrect pronouns to describe them. They sometimes use inappropriate words to define an event that does not appropriately capture the emotions and events.
“It’s not just about covering pride or violence, but across beats,” Ragamalika Karthikeyan, editor of special projects and experiments at the News Minute, said at the virtual press conference while launching the project on Feb. 24. “How do we write about LGBTQIA+ with dignity and respect, how do we make sure that a person’s personhood is maintained, how do we make sure that a community is not disrespected in the course of our journalism? How do we make sure that stories that are disrespectful and dehumanizing queer persons don’t keep happening?”
In the next phase, the project will launch an LGBTQ media guide in six languages: English, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and Marathi. The reference guide’s goal is to help journalists use more appropriate words to more deeply and accurately cover stories about the LGBTQ community.
“I am yet to come across a journalist or a reporter who has had an issue with anyone being gay. I think the sensitivity comes in where it becomes a question of how to ask a question, so as not to offend,” said Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a prominent and openly gay Indian defense and foreign analyst who also writes for Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi newspaper, and is a member of a political think tank. “Even in Hindi newspapers, because I write for Dainik Bhaskar I have not come across a lack of sensitivity. I describe it more as disinterest in LGBTQ issues, and that suits me perfectly fine. I do not want more people to be aware of it. It is much easier to fight when people are not aware of things and have not made up their minds about it.”
The project also aims to start workshops for journalists in the country to sensitize and train them for covering LGBTQ issues more accurately and deeply. There are some fellowships also involved in the project for reporters interested in learning how to write LGBTQ stories sensitively.
“I think it is an applaudable initiative. We need to acknowledge the fact that vocabulary plays an important role in every news report, it is perhaps why time and again we have improvised. For example, in 2016, the Associated Press revised its style guide suggesting journalists to use ‘crash, collision, or other terms’ besides ‘accident’ in auto crash reporting (at least until culpability is proven),” said Heena Khandelwal, a journalist who is based in Mumbai. “Similarly, the initiative takes a step in ensuring that we use the terms/words/language that does not offend the community as well as empowers the vernacular reporters by looking for their alternatives in regional languages. The decision to turn it into a handbook will make it accessible to the journalist community at large.”
Khandelwal, while talking to the Washington Blade, said that she believes that there is also a need for more LGBTQ journalists in the newsroom.
“We cannot ask a man to not write about women’s issues, can we? Similarly, we cannot and must not ask heterosexual journalists to report about the LGBTQIA+ community and support the initiative by Newsminute so that it is done correctly. At the same time, we must include journalists from the LGBTQIA+ community to make our coverage more inclusive,” said Khandelwal. “There are so many aspects to their daily lives, struggles as well as achievements that heterosexual journalists would have a limited understanding of and by covering them, they would be widening the horizon of us writers as well as readers. Their inclusion would also make newsrooms more vibrant and a publication’s voice, not only when publishing a LGBTQIA+ story but otherwise as well, more inclusive.”
Khandelwal has covered LGBTQ-specific stories for Daily News and Analysis (DNA), the fastest-growing English newspaper in Mumbai.
Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion.