Voice of the common man, Faye D'Souza wants citizens to discuss social issues at the dinner table | Tomorrowmakers

Women's rights, women's safety, women's financial freedom imperative: Faye D'Souza

Faye D'souza

Faye D’Souza came as a breath of fresh air to the Indian TV news scene and went on to become a household name in a very short time. The video where she disciplined an irate maulana on her show went viral for all the right reasons. A beacon of hope for citizens’ rights in India, she talks about the state of farmers, women’s safety, the Women’s Reservation Bill, the need for women to become financially independent, and more.

Excerpts:

What was the thought behind launching a citizen-centric channel?

When we were thinking of Mirror Now as a channel, we realised there was lot of conversation about politics on national news channels. While politics plays an important part, no one was focusing on the citizen. We decided we will pick up stories that actually mean something to ordinary citizens. 

Look at some of the campaigns we undertook – safety for women in taxis, safety for children in schools, or accountability from local governments. These are issues we believe in. There could be two politicians fighting in Delhi, but we would rather talk about the citizens’ woes when it comes to the number of hours it takes to commute to work.

There was room for a channel that focuses on the citizens’ point of view and their need for accountability. That was the idea behind launching Mirror Now.

While the focus is predominantly on basic necessities – bijli, sadak, pani – do you think this is enough to sustain in today’s world?

We have done more than sustain. In fact, we are now the number 3 channel in the market. We are only 14 months old and we have managed to grow pretty well. We have achieved a sense of mind-state with the audience. There is a very clear understanding with the audience about who we are and what we really do. 

I would love to see a day when we run out of issues to talk about in India. But we’re a long way from getting there. Every single day something or the other pops up that we believe deserves attention. For instance, all channels focused on the fact that there was a no-confidence motion and Rahul Gandhi hugged the Prime Minister. But what happened after that? 

We recently did an entire discussion on the premise that when issues such as lynching, fake news, and farmer suicides were raised, there was abysmal attendance in the Lok Sabha. 

On the one hand, channels are focusing on the hugging, but what happens when the real issues are raised? Where is the accountability then? This is the information citizens deserve to know. But citizens are not getting it as other channels are obsessed with politics. This is where Mirror Now comes in.

Can you name some of the most successful campaigns done by the channel? What was the kind of impact they generated?

The first campaign we did was about child locks in cars. The idea was to inform as many people as possible about the risk involved every time you get into a cab booked via an app on your phone. You could get trapped in that car. Our video for this went viral.

We also spoke to various governments and the office of the Union Ministry of Public Transport. It’s taken us a year but the Ministry is working on a regulation that will make sure that any cab registered as a taxi will have to dismantle its child lock. This was a massive win for us. 

We have pushed for accountability from local governments on issues such as condition of roads, potholes, etc. Another campaign we worked on was taxes on sanitary napkins. This too has been accepted by the government. 

Campaigns actually take a fairly long time. They are not as quick as we would like them to be. In a short span of just over a year, we have had a fair amount of success.

Has there been any campaign or cause that is near to your heart?

I feel strongly about every campaign we undertake. However, the Women’s Reservation Bill is definitely a cause close to my heart. It is not something we can resolve in a year or two. 

Representation of women in Parliament is very low at just 11% in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Considering the fact that women are half the population, a proper representation will be 50%. The Bill is asking for only 33% and even that is not being granted. It was passed in the Rajya Sabha a few years ago but that has lapsed now. What we need this government to do is to reintroduce the bill; it has to go through the process of approval again. 

Whether we talk about GST on products that women use or safety for women or any other issue we dig up, it is crucial to have women in the position of making decisions. It should be the natural thing to do. The fact that we have to argue for women’s representation in such cases is a sorry state of affairs.

Another issue is the condition of farmers in our country. Other channels focus a lot on urban India and not so much on rural India. I don’t understand how we can afford not to focus on farmers. Where will our food come from? How can our country develop if we cannot take our farmers along? A majority of our population are farmers and they are the backbone of our country.

How would you define ‘women empowerment’, especially in the Indian context?

Women empowerment in India is in bits and pieces. Women in urban areas are far more empowered than their rural counterparts. Research tells us women in the south of the country are more empowered than women in some states in the north. Education is the only solution to the lack of women empowerment.

Empowerment is in degrees. If you look at the corporate world, there is a need for empowerment in boardrooms and corner offices. But in comparison, the state of women in our country – where female infanticide, AIDS, trafficking, and sexual slavery are rampant – is far worse. The rate of crimes against women in India is shocking. 

People see the word ‘feminism’ as a bad word. But the argument is just for equality. We are so far away from achieving equality in India. 

You have been a financial journalist, with expertise in personal finance. Do you think women have a unique way of managing money?

Women are more conservative and tend to take fewer risks. As a result, they are far less likely to lose money than men. Indian women are also slightly nervous about managing their money. We are conditioned to believe that the ‘man of the house’ makes all financial decisions and investments. 

Professional women tend to pass on their money management to some male member of the family. This may not be ideal because it is their hard-earned money. Financial independence is extremely important. Women need to learn to handle their own finances.

What do you think are the two crucial things women need to keep in mind while managing their finances? 

These pointers apply to both men and women.

  • Be very clear how much you should put away very month and what you need the money for. A lot of people save without setting goals for their money. That is where we make mistakes. You are allowed to change your plans. But you need to have goals in place. For example, if you are saving for your retirement fund, you should invest accordingly.
  • Check your financial status every quarter. People often forget to do this. See how your investments are doing, and if you need to make changes to optimise these investments.

As a woman journalist, have you faced any gender discrimination at the workplace?

Not at workplace, but when you go outside, especially as a business journalist, people see you differently. You are not taken seriously. They do not expect you to ask serious questions. They don’t expect you to be good at balance sheets. In the beginning of my career I have faced these situations.

Despite the fact that women have covered wars, riots, etc. it’s a common view that women should not be there in the first place. It is interesting that the view towards women is the same, whether it is the boardroom or police headquarters or the war zone.

But to answer your question, I have not faced any discrimination in the workplace in the various organisations I have worked with. In fact, they have all been very encouraging of women.

What would be your advice to aspiring journalists – especially young women – who want to make their mark in the media industry?

  • Be prepared to work really, really hard.
  • Don’t expect results overnight. It takes 14-15 years to build a career. You cannot do it in 1-2 years. I see a lot of young people quit because they become disheartened in a year. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • A business journalist, a social crusader, and a role model for many – what’s next? 

My aim is to make citizens discuss social issues at the dinner table. Talk about farmers, equality, and other issues. The idea is to push it into the mindspace of the population. Personally, I want to hone my skills and keep getting better. 

What is your typical day like ‘off camera’?

We start our morning with a conference call where we decide the mandate of the channel for the day. After that I’m on calls with people to decide what will be on prime time, what angles we are going to take, etc. We invest a lot of time in deciding what topics we should reignite and what stories we’re going to put our might behind. 

Do you think the concept of work-life balance exists in an industry as demanding as this?

This is a tough question. You have to make time. I wake up early because I want to work out. I try to spend time with family as much as I can. I like to watch a lot of content and read a lot. I believe it is important to know what is going on in the world in order to be a good journalist. 

This is a mix of work and life. The truth is I love what I do; it’s a bit of an addiction. I have to force myself to unplug. But it is a demanding industry. It’s not for people who want a 9-to-5 job or have their weekends off. It’s not a profession that gives 50-50 work-life balance. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article by Faye D'souza are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of TomorrowMakers.com or its owners.

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