Senjuti Masud

June 2020
A women sitting on a balcony.

Senjuti Masud is a project manager at BBC Media Action – an Inclusive Futures partner and non-governmental organisation which utilises the power of media and communications to reach people facing insecurity and inequality, with information they can trust.

Here, she explains how they’ve been training journalists to improve how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media, and tackle negative stereotyping and perceptions.

My first ever job was as an online news correspondent for one year and then a position opened up at BBC Media Action

They were looking for an online English language coach and radio producer. It grabbed my attention because on the one hand it was going to give me an opportunity to try out the academic skills I’d gained from my university degree, and also, the interesting part was the use of technology, like online platforms, radio or electronic media.

BBC’s value is that everyone has the right to information. It’s a basic need like food, water, medical support; information is equally important

BBC Media Action is a development charity, part of the BBC, but it’s a separate entity. We use media and communication tools for development purposes, like providing behaviour change messages, reaching people during a time of emergency, or simply reaching different groups and sections of society who are usually excluded from information.

I started in 2008. At that time, using digital media tools to teach was still quite new, especially in a country like Bangladesh

Our classrooms weren’t digital back then; we didn’t even have a full-time electricity supply in my university. So, this job sounded quite new and innovative to me, which was a big motivating factor to get involved with BBC Media Action.

I started as an English language teaching producer for BBC Janala, a programme funded by UK aid to help people in Bangladesh to learn English. I mainly taught adults how to communicate in English at a job interview, or introduce themselves to a new person.

Not everyone had access to the internet, so we published lessons in the most widely-circulated daily newspaper in Bangladesh, and via mobile phone. Anyone could dial ‘3000’ and choose which English lesson suited their needs, like for a job interview, or for a conversation. Later, it went online. I think we reached around 25 million people.

Being exposed to all of these different opportunities to learn and grow was huge for me

I’ve had the opportunity to work in many different roles: I started in education; then I worked on a project on material and neonatal health while I was pregnant; then I worked on a project on resilience. And now I’m working on gender, inclusion and people with disabilities. So, this mixed range in my career is something that makes me really, really proud. Not many people get this sort of exposure and opportunity to learn from diversity, and diversity is absolutely the spice of my career. Having the chance to learn and grow my career is what I cherish and I am most proud of.

After four years at the BBC, I took a year off because I received a scholarship to study my Masters in Education Technology at the University of Manchester in the UK. Then I had time to raise my son, and I worked for the British Council to try something else for two years, and then I came back – I got so used to working here!

We know it’s important to harness the power of the private sector for people with disabilities to be included in jobs

The way people with disabilities are being portrayed in the media is from a lens of pity or sympathy. When employers are looking at them, they’re seeing them as a burden to society, not good enough, not capable enough to contribute to the economy. This is what we want to challenge.

We want to sensitise employers about including more people with disabilities. We want to challenge the stereotype 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 are training some 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.

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.

Through our training intervention, we want to show 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 the 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.

We’ve seen the language change

We’ve seen a tremendous response and excitement from the people we trained. Within just three months, we are seeing a lot of good media pieces from the journalists. And we’re surprised that even during this stressful time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the journalists are still using their training to publish quality stories which include people with disabilities.

One of the television channels even hosted a discussion around inclusive policies: they brought together experts and had a direct chat with the policy makers about how people with disabilities can be included in the COVID-19 response, and can be addressed more by the government.

I think it’s an amazing change to achieve in such a short period of time.

When a public health emergency is going on, people who usually tend to be excluded, get even more excluded

That is why now, more than ever, it’s important to keep shouting and voicing their needs. This is the time when the media can prove its worth. Media and communication channels must keep pushing for inclusion so that it’s not moving down as a priority.

This is just the beginning and I’m very proud to be a part of it

It’s a small intervention 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. It’s groundbreaking work, and I personally hope that we can reach more journalists and media houses with this training, as we’ve put our heart and soul into its design.

What we do

We’re working to tackle negative attitudes around disability to free people with disabilities from the stigma and discrimination they often experience.

Tackling discrimination

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