From the Muzaffarnagar riots to the havoc wrought by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; from sterilisation deaths in Chhattisgarh to girls learning to play cricket in a Maoist-affected village in Jharkhand, the eighth edition of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards for 2013 and 2014 was a celebration of how stories should be told — simply, factually.
Union Minister for Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley, who was the chief guest at the function on Monday, gave away awards to 57 journalists who went the extra mile for their stories.
Speaking on the occasion, Jaitley paid rich tributes to Ramnath Goenka, the iconic founder of The Indian Express Group, saying, “I have never had the least hesitation in my mind at acknowledging that he is the most fascinating person I know.”
Recalling Goenka’s contribution to the struggle against the Emergency imposed from 1975-77, Jaitley said, “If there was one instrumentality that kept fighting the Emergency from outside the prison system, it was The Indian Express.” Jaitley went on to add that the Excellence in Journalism Awards was a “fit tribute because no one could represent the values of fearlessness that Ramnath Goenka did”. “Having an award in his name is something he rightly deserves,” he said.
Speaking on the values that Goenka represented as a newspaper founder, Jaitley said, “He had a deep sense of pride about the fact that a newspaper is supposed to expose corruption or injustice wherever they find it.”
Recollecting Ramnath Goenka’s line that running a newspaper “should be a standalone business”, Jaitley pointed to “one of the big challenges facing media today”. “People involved in other businesses also tend to control media organisations. Then editorial columns start to reflect their other interests,” Jaitley said.
Later, veteran journalist, columnist and author Kuldip Nayar was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his far-reaching contribution to the field of journalism in a career spanning over five decades.
As Editor at The Indian Express, Nayar symbolised journalism’s fight against the Emergency and was jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act for leading a protest against the excesses of the administration.
Radheshyam Bapu Jadhav of The Times of India won the Prakash Kardaley Memorial Award for Civic Journalism (2014) for his reports on illegal buildings in Pune and the fear of its residents. Madhavi Tata of Outlook won the award for environmental reporting for 2014 for her story on how the new Andhra Pradesh capital will destroy farming in Guntur, the state’s most fertile region.
Shamni Pande of India Today won the award in the Business and Economic Journalism (2013) category for her story on the skilling crisis in the country and how the gap refuses to close.
The Indian Express reporters Dipankar Ghose and VN Apurva bagged the award for On-The-Spot reporting in 2013 for documenting the Muzaffarnagar communal violence.
In the ‘Reporting from J&K and the Northeast’ category, Esha Roy of The Indian Express won the award for her story on the gangrape of a girl in a remote Meghalaya town (2013) and for her 2014 story on Iron Sharmila that captured the life the activist lost and the memories that sustained her.
This year’s awards introduced two new categories — Photo Journalism and Feature Writing. Tashi Tobgyal of The Indian Express won the Photo Journalism award for 2013 for his breathtaking image of fog-enveloped mountains as he undertook a three-day trek to Kedarnath temple after the Uttarakhand cloud burst.
In the Broadcast section, Uma Sudhir of NDTV 24X7 won the award in the Uncovering India Invisible category (2014) and Deepa Balakrishnan of CNN IBN won the award for Reporting on Politics and Government (2013) for her documentary exposing the link between mining and politics in Karnataka.
The function was followed by an engaging conversation with Aamir Khan, actor, producer, director, and one of the most influential public figures in India today, which was moderated by Anant Goenka, Wholetime Director & Head – New Media, The Indian Express.
Earlier, welcoming the guests, Viveck Goenka, chairman of the Express Group and the Ramnath Goenka Foundation, said that the record number of applicants this time, 700, and the quality of stories awarded show that excellence in journalism isn’t in short supply. “You only need to look beyond your smartphone and the remote control,” he said.
Journalists, like economists, he said, have to be students of “human nature, of exuberance and fear,” especially at a time of disruptive change. And listening and learning lie at the heart of good journalism.
He referred to some of the award-winning stories as illustrative of this. “A heart-rending account of what happened in the bus on December 16 in Delhi that changed a nation; what led to the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, less than two hours from where we sit; how the football World Cup found an echo in a soccer academy in a city slum; the harrowing journey 46 nurses took from Syria to safety; and how an entire town in Uttar Pradesh transformed itself into a stage for the grandest Ramlila in the world,” he said.
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