Project manager Senjuti Masud and senior producer Bishawjit Das explain how they’re training journalists to improve how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media, and tackle negative stereotyping and perceptions.
“The way people with disabilities are being portrayed in the media is from a lens of pity or sympathy,” Senjuti explains. “So, when employers are looking at them, they’re looking at them as a burden to the society, not good enough, not capable enough to contribute to the economy. This is what we want to challenge.
“We know it’s important to harness the power of the private sector for people with disabilities to be included in jobs. So, we want to sensitise employers about including more people with disability. To do that, BBC Media Action is training media professionals,” he adds.
Senjuti and Bishawjit are training around 150 journalists from all different formats: television, radio, online and print. “They are senior journalists who’ve been working for a while. They know what they’re doing; we are trying to adjust their lens a little bit so that they have this fresh perception about telling the story from a different angle. So far, stories focus on a very pitiful situation and deplorable conditions of people with disability,” Senjuti continues.
“We are showing them that disability inclusion widens the scope of their story. It gives another dimension and it presents your subject in a more positive way. We want to challenge the stereotypes and portray people with disabilities more positively, so that these stereotypes are broken and they’re presented in a more empowered way – and that will bring change in the employment sector.
“We want to show through our training intervention that people with disabilities are an asset and they deserve equal dignity. And when media professionals are presenting them as part of their stories, whatever they’re talking about in media, be it an issue of public interest, economy, growth, the current political situation, they need to be included everywhere. Their voices need to be heard everywhere.”
Bishawjit explains what is involved in the training. “We bring the journalists together in a room with a group of people with disabilities, so they learn from each other’s experiences,” he says. “We ask the journalists to write an inclusive story on ‘What does society think about people with disability?’ The interesting thing is: not only do the other journalists analyse it, but we ask the people with disabilities to give their feedback by asking: ‘How does it sound to you? Is it really dignified enough?’
“Since receiving the training, we’ve noticed some of the journalists are already writing positive stories including people with disabilities. If you analyse the pre-training and post-training news, you will see a huge difference.”
“We saw the language being changed,” Senjuti adds. “I think it’s an amazing change to achieve in such a short period of time.
“We are creating a Facebook group where the journalists can talk about stories, to push them to keep talking about people with disability in a more engaging and interactive way. And there’s a little element of competition of who’s the best at making a change to the coverage – we’re going to declare them as champions.”
As part of the mentoring, Bishawjit and Senjuti have a refresher training session with the journalists a couple of months later.
“It’s to see whether they have forgotten anything. I’ve said to them: ‘I want to see at least 50 quality stories that would change the perspective of the audience!’” Bishawjit explains.
“Media is so powerful here and this project is something new, this is something fresh.
“We hope that, eventually, leading media houses will take leadership in changing their practice, which will in turn inspire others to take similar kinds of approaches to storytelling, change their perceptions a little bit and do similar types of story.”
Senjuti adds: “It’s a small intervention. We have trained 150 journalists so far and Bangladesh is a country of thousands of journalists. I am proud that BBC Media Action has been part of this new initiative and journalists who were part of it have appreciated this effort so much. I hope more journalists will be able to reach more people. This is just a beginning and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Syed Ishtiaque Reza, editor-in-chief of GTV (one of the top TV channels in Bangladesh), was employed by BBC Media Action as a consultant, to provide his expertise on the development on the training programme. He supervises the news and current affairs wing of the television channel and he worked with BBC Media Action to answer any questions regarding the different contexts in different newsrooms.
“Media plays a very key role in changing the attitude of the private sector employers, so I think this training is very important,” Syed explains. “The media in Bangladesh has this very strong power to motivate change in society.
“We need huge change. We have a law, but it’s is not known to everyone. There are some private sectors employing a large number of people with disabilities but still the major areas are not. It needs total change in the mindset of the people. And here is where the media and parliamentarians have a really strong role to play.
“Training for the journalists on this disability inclusion will help change the mindset of the policymakers, bureaucrats, politicians – because of their writings, because of their shows on television.”