Keynote address by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Ramnath Goenka Awards for Excellence in Journalism for work done in 2015.
Everyone present here, I congratulate everyone who has got an award today. There must be a lot more who might not have got an award today but must be very serious contenders. I want to congratulate them as well so that this trend continues. May the pen, the idea, the word, and the effort of everyone contribute to the progress of the country in one way or the other.
There are many people who, within their lifetime, make a name for themselves in their respective field or profession. Then there are others who make a name even outside their chosen field. But there are very few people who continue to have an influence over their profession, their chosen area of work, even after their life, and become a legend. And Ramnath Goenka was such a name.
I have had the good fortune of meeting Ramnathji. He had come to Gujarat. Because of the position he was in, his circle of interactions could have included heads of political parties or chief ministers, or someone who the media thought would become very big in future. I was nothing at that time. Perhaps, if I had sought time from any editor in my own town, I would not have got it.
But still, I had the good fortune of meeting Ramnathji. That was the time of the Jayaprakash movement. And each one of us could experience the fire within Ramnathji. And that fire was not just for The Indian Express, a newspaper. He was not satisfied with what he was able to do through the newspaper. The newspaper was not enough for his expressions. And that is why he wanted to do something outside the restrictions of journalism as well. And he used to do it. And he had emerged as a pillar of strength behind Jayaprakash Narayan and his movement.
And he was so strong on his principles that… there was a family that everyone knows of… if one managed to be in the good books of that family then one could reach anywhere, achieve anything… and there was no dearth of people trying to get close to that family. But it was Ramnath Goenka who, despite being close to that family, had the courage to break ties on matters of principles and ideals. And therefore, his courage was not limited to journalism and what used to get published in his newspaper in the mornings.
And if we see the history of journalism in India — I don’t know what is taught in the journalism syllabus these days — but if we look at the history of journalism, we will notice that its development is very closely linked with the Independence movement. There wasn’t a single revolutionary in the Independence movement who was not associated with one newspaper or the other. And they used to consider this as possessing one additional weapon in their fight against British rule. And they did fight. Many of these who were leading the Independence movement through journalism had to spend several years in jail. But they did not give up the fight. We have seen many big personalities, be it [Bal Gangadhar] Tilakji, Gandhiji, or even Shri Aurobindo, who gave big strength to the Independence movement through their writings and their newspapers.
We see another unique thing in India. The people who are learned, who have been blessed by Maa Saraswati, for whom poetry and literature come easily… there was a time when nearly all great writers in the country also preferred to be associated with journalism. They could express themselves through poems but at the same time encourage people for revolution through their journalism. In those times, they could realise a greater force in journalism than in literature. So they had literature for their own satisfaction and journalism for national interest. The British government also knew that these learned people posed one of the biggest challenges to its empire and that it must make some arrangement to keep them silent.
Then we achieved Independence. After Independence, journalism has played a key role in strengthening democracy, in showing the right direction to democracy. I do not want to criticise anyone but when we are afflicted with some major disease then we often remember our previous disease and what had happened then. Because we try to assess the unknown from what we know. And for this reason, the period of Emergency is very useful to understand the nature and scale of dangers that democracy faces today. Some people do not like the mention of the Emergency. A political motive is seen. I think the political game over the Emergency is over. Today, the need is to ensure that every generation must keep reflecting — I am not using the word criticising, I am using the word reflecting — on the Emergency period in an unbiased manner so that no future political leader is born who can even wish to commit the same sin. Reminding ourselves of the Emergency is also essential to keep the political class on its toes.
It is also true that the Emergency period also exposed the media. People realised that the media, which everyone was supposed to be afraid of, and whose might everyone talked of, was not what they had heard of and imagined. There were very few people, very few, who decided to challenge the Emergency. And that challenge was led by Ramnath Goenka and The Indian Express. I think that this episode in history is very important to save our democracy. There is a need to keep sharpening our democracy in every generation.
I think the media today is faced with the kind of challenges that it did not have to encounter in the last one century. And the main reason for that is technology. Technology has presented a huge challenge especially for the media. Earlier, news used to be fresh even when it came after 24 hours. Today, if just 24 seconds have passed people start asking, how come you do not know? People in any corner of the world know this is the news right now. I believe that when television news came, governments became restless. Governments need response time. When there is an epidemic, doctors need to be mobilised. If there is a riot, police arrangements have to be made. Media does not give you that much time. It wants news. Breaking. I do not know what. But even before the governments were able to cope with television, social media emerged on the scene. It is now a question of seconds [before news spreads]. Earlier, some learned people, after lots of studies, used to enter journalism.
Today, it is not the same. Even a villager can take a photo and upload it. And because of this, people have a surfeit of news. And in this situation, credibility has become a very big issue. People still pick up newspapers in the morning as a matter of habit. But that is habit, just like people want tea in the morning. They pick up the newspaper even though they have seen everything on television the previous day. But now, they do not read news, they verify news. They check whether what they had read and seen on social media, on their mobiles, whether the newspaper has the same thing or something else. And then they decide whether the two rupees spent on the newspaper has been utilised or not. And that is why I say the challenge is very big. I do not know how you all will cope with this challenge.
But at the same time, we realise that this country is full of immense talent. People look at and analyse even little things in a detailed manner. I remember, I was chief minister of Gujarat. Newspapers keep writing about politicians. At one time there used to be lots of reports about VIP culture, the number of cars in politicians’ convoys and so on. These are interesting news and are readymade when nothing else is available. I asked my officers whether something can be done about this. They said it is there in the rulebooks and we cannot compromise on that. I was not able to convince them. But one evening, when my convoy was moving in Ahmedabad, one young person recorded the movement with his mobile phone and uploaded it. I was very active on social media and came to know of it within a couple of hours. I remember that video on social media had a much greater impact on me than all the criticism in the newspapers.
I am able to talk about this to highlight how powerful this has become. Empowerment of people is a very good thing. And at such times, maintaining credibility is a big challenge.
This [journalism] is one profession that has the right to question everyone. And no one can question that right. And if that right is questioned, you as well as I know what happens. By the way, I will forever be grateful to the media. Otherwise, who knew me. After Independence if any politician has received this kind of special attention, I think I am the only one.
See, the world has changed. It is not just the economy that has globalised. Our entire lives have been globalised. The entire world has got interconnected. Therefore, I do not understand why no Indian media organisation has a presence at the global level. Even today, people refer to BBC. Now, Al Jazeera has also become a big player. So, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera. People in this field should look at it as a challenge. There should be an Indian media institution that is world-class and global. If we are a major player in the world, then all our concerns should get reflected effectively on the global stage. This should be our dream. If someone feels bad, let it be. I certainly feel that we must have influence in the world.
We have immense strength. Like, when the environment awards were just given, I asked Viveck [Goenka] whether this is for reporting on pollution or environment. I was generally asking. Today, the entire world is discussing environment and global warming, whereas it is in India’s blood to live harmoniously with nature, to respect nature’s abilities and limitations. If we had a global media, then we could have told the world that while you have been the reason for destruction, we have been destroying ourselves to save and protect nature. We have put ourselves in difficulty.
This is what Mahatma Gandhi used to say while living on the banks of the river Sabarmati. The river used to flow with full force at that time. But if Gandhiji used to be given a glass of water, he used to ask someone to put half the water back in the pot and not waste it. This, when there was no shortage of water and he was sitting on the banks of a river. Protection of nature, conservation of natural resources is in our blood. In this country, children are told to apologise to the earth every morning for putting their feet on it. Mothers tell their children that this sun is your grandfather, this moon is your mama. The entire universe is your family. All this is in our blood.
Why can’t we then have a global media institution through which we can tell the world that this is the right way to live, to protect the earth from global warming? We have plenty to give. The question is whether we are working in this direction. I believe that some such institution will emerge. But this cannot be a government agency. Like Vinobaji used to say — Vinobaji had a way with words — a-sarkari asar-kari (non-government is effective). The word is the same.
We should have this dream that we also have a world-class media institution that operates at the global level. Lots of people in the world carry out research. They might know. All the top countries in the world are engaged in creating this kind of communication agency. Governments are involved. Everyone realises that it is not just about a globalised economy but the entire world is being shaped in this manner. And we must be able to stand on our own. This is an opportunity as well as a challenge. And we must think about this.
The other thing is that the more the government is criticised, the better it is. I have no problems with it. Please do not get the recording wrong. But India is full of diversity. It has its uniqueness. Unity of the country must be our priority. If we compromise even a little here… then for you it is only news, and once it is published you will start searching for some other news, but sometimes it leaves deep wounds and scars. I am not saying that this sin is not committed by others. It is possible that people of my fraternity make this kind of mistake much more than you do. But this is a matter of concern. How must we stress things that strengthen national unity?
I will give an example, and if I am wrong, please point it out. Maybe you will not do it now and do it only later. Earlier, when an accident was reported, the news used to be like a truck and a bicycle had an accident at such and such village. And then it changed to something like a drunk car driver ran over an innocent man in a case of rash driving. Run over. Then it changed again. And now it would be like a BMW hit and ran over a Dalit person. Pardon me, but that BMW driver might not know that the other person is a Dalit. But we sometimes ignite fires because of such reporting. Should accidents be reported? Of course, they must be. If it is worth a big headline, it should be given.
Then we have budgets. What should be the reporting on a budget? That government has presented a budget. There is so much of deficit, there is Rs 2,000 crore additional tax imposed. This is news. But we have become more interested in views. ‘Modi sarkar ka kamartod budget’ (Modi government’s backbreaking budget). ‘Modi sarkar ka Uttar Pradesh ke chunaav ko dhyaan me rakhte hue budget’ (Modi government presents budget keeping UP elections in mind).
This is not meant as criticism. It is very important for us to realise that governments alone cannot run a country like India. All institutions must play a role in strengthening the unity of the country and take it forward. We must work together. And there is no reason why we should be left behind. There is no reason why we cannot give anything to the world.
All those young people who have embraced the profession of journalism and have begun their journey of life in a perfect manner, I congratulate all of them. And my best wishes to the new generation who will treat these journalists as their role models and be inspired by them. I thank Bhai Viveck for calling me here. I have an old association with this family. But I am very grateful to this family for inviting me here.