AT a time when news and information were surplus, the biggest challenge facing the media was credibility, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Wednesday, while stressing on the need to develop a world-class media organisation that could match the dominance of BBC or CNN on the global stage.
Speaking after presenting the Ramnath Goenka Awards for Excellence in Journalism for work done in 2015, the largest awards in the news media, Modi said that the media should be an effective tool in the hands of every subsequent generation to “sharpen” democracy. He stressed that every generation must also reflect on the breakdown of democracy during the Emergency.
“Aaj nishpaksh bhaav se us (Emergency period) ki mimansa har peedhi me hoti rahni chahiye, taki is desh me aisa koi rajpurush paida no ho jisko is tarah ke paap karne ki ichcha tak paida ho (Every generation must keep reflecting on the Emergency period in an unbiased manner so that no future political leader can even wish to commit the same sin),” he said.
“There were very few people who could challenge the Emergency. And that challenge was led by (The Indian Express founder) Ramnath Goenka and The Indian Express,” he said. He took a swipe at “one family that everyone knows of” whose blessings everyone wanted. “But it was Ramnath Goenka, who despite being close to this family, had the courage to break off ties on matter of principles and ideals (during the Emergency)”.
Modi honoured 37 journalists from across the country with the Ramnath Goenka Awards that are given every year. The event was attended, amongst others, by Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, CPI’s D Raja, JD(U) MP K C Tyagi and chairman of National Green Tribunal Justice Swatanter Kumar.
The Prime Minister said technology and social media had put new challenges before the media and brought about tremendous changes in the way people consume news. “They still pick up newspapers in the morning as a matter of habit. But they do not read news, they verify news. They check whether what they have read on social media is correct or not. So I think the challenge (of credibility) is very big,” he said.
“Social media has become extremely influential. Empowerment of people is a good thing. But at times like this, maintaining credibility is a big challenge. It is the biggest challenge media has faced in the last one century,” he said.
To cheers from the audience, Modi quipped that he personally was forever thankful of the media. “Otherwise who would have known me. After independence if any political leader has received this kind of (special) attention, I think I am the only one,” he said. The Prime Minister said journalism was a profession that had a right to question everyone, and this right itself could not be questioned.
“The more a government is criticised, the better it is. I have no problems with that… but unity of the country must be our priority. If we compromise even a little there… then for you it is only news, you will move ahead to different news, but sometimes it can leave deep wounds,” he said.
“I can give an example. Earlier, when accident was reported, the news used to be like that a truck and 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. 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,” he said.
He said for an emerging global player like India, there was a need to have a global media that could present India’s viewpoints at the world stage. “Even today, people refer to BBC. Now, Al Jazeera has also become a big player. So, CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera. People in this field (journalism) should look at it as a challenge. We should have an Indian (media institution) of world-class quality. Because if we are a major player in the world, our every concern should get reflected effectively in the world. This should be our dream. I certainly feel that we must have influence in the world,” he said.
But he said this role could not be played by government media. He said in this context, he is reminded of the phrase used by Acharya Vinoba Bhave who used to say “Asarkari asarkari (Non-government is effective)”. Viveck Goenka, chairman of the Express group, said the presence of Modi at the RNG awards showed that “politicians are the only public figures whose shoulders are the broadest when it comes to criticism and questioning…whether fair or unfair”. He said the awards applauded journalism that, in the true spirit of the Ramnath Goenka, “speaks truth to power”. Goenka recalled his meeting with the Prime Minister when he invited him to the awards and his prompt acceptance. “That spontaneous response affirmed my belief, in fact, my conviction, that despite the bitterness in our public discourse these days, despite the name calling, the tu tu main main, our politicians are the only public figures whose shoulders are the broadest when it comes to criticism and questioning. Whether fair or unfair. That’s a testament to our democracy — to the world’s largest democracy of which Shri Modiji is the Prime Minister — to the space that it offers to facilitate consensus. And yet nurture argument, dissent and disagreement.”
In his vote of thanks, Raj Kamal Jha, Chief Editor of The Indian Express, said that the Prime Minister was right to underline credibility as a value for the news media. He said that the PM’s presence was a message that the best of journalism should be defined by the work of the award-winners.