Underlining the role of debate in a democracy, President Ram Nath Kovind said Monday that the system is “meaningful” only if citizens are “well informed”. And excellence in journalism, he said, “grants full meaning to democracy”.
Addressing the gathering as chief guest at the 14th Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in New Delhi, the President said: “The quest for truth is, of course, difficult and easier said than done. But it must be pursued. A democracy like ours deeply relies on the uncovering of facts and a willingness to debate them. Democracy is meaningful only when the citizen is well informed. In that sense, excellence in journalism grants full meaning to democracy.”
Kovind was speaking after presenting awards to 23 winners in 11 categories — across print, broadcast and digital — for outstanding work in 2018.
Cautioning against the dangers posed by fake news and paid news, the President said: “In the din of the ‘breaking news’ syndrome that has consumed the media now, this fundamental principle of restraint and responsibility has been undermined substantially. Fake news has emerged as a new menace, whose purveyors proclaim themselves as journalists and taint this noble profession.”
RNG Awards: Full text of President Ram Nath Kovind’s address
In this context, Kovind said, if journalism has to remain relevant, “it has to reclaim its values of honesty and fairness”. “It has to, 24×7, reinforce its compact with citizens: that it will not bend, that it will always fight for truth no matter what the consequence, and that it will remain committed to finding the truth without fear or favour,” he said.
The President said that “technology has drastically altered the nature of journalism”, “given rise to a new breed of journalism” and “revived the old debates about the status of facts and opinions, about credibility and authenticity”.
“What is desirable is objectivity, which allows journalists to be open to facts, and present all sides of a picture. Fidelity to facts, digging for truth and keeping one’s lens clean and sharp is imperative,” he said.
Asking the gathering to “ponder for a moment” as to what The Indian Express founder Ramnath Goenka would have done had he encountered a crisis of credibility on account of paid news or fake news, Kovind said: “He would never have allowed the situation to go adrift and initiated measures for course correction for the whole media fraternity. There is no doubt that journalism has been passing through a critical phase.”
RNG awards: Here’s the full list of winners
Recalling legendary journalist Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi who “sacrificed his life to douse the flames of hatred during communal violence in Kanpur,” the President quoted his words: “In justice, we shall support both the rulers and the ruled but in injustice, we shall be with neither. It is our heartfelt wish that different castes and communities live with mutual respect and tolerance.”
Referring to “these days”, Kovind said journalists “tend to wear many hats in the line of their duty” and “often assume the role of an investigator, a prosecutor and a judge — all rolled into one”. “Their versatility is praiseworthy. But that prompts me to ask if such a sweeping exercise of power is accompanied by genuine accountability?” he said.
The President also lamented that stories “exposing great social and economic inequalities are ignored” and replaced by trivia as some have “taken recourse to entertainment in the name of news”. However, he expressed confidence that in the long run, “quality journalism will prevail”.
Referring to Ramnath Goenka, in whose memory the Awards were instituted in 2006, Kovind described him as “a matchless media personality who influenced the country both before and after Independence”. “The hallmark of his endeavour was an uncompromising journalism of courage. A journalism without fear or favour; its fundamental commitment to truth above all else,” he said.
The President said it is an “elevating experience for a humble Ram Nath to participate in an event named after the redoubtable Ramnath whose stories of fight against oppression and persistence for truth are stuff of legend”.
“But what I do — and all of us must — share with Goenkaji is his passionate nationalism. I ardently share his dream of a strong and prosperous India,” he said.
Kovind wrapped up his speech by quoting Mahatma Gandhi, whom he called one of journalists’ greatest predecessors: “Always insist on truth and urge it with humility and grace…curb your pen and tongue, exercise the strictest economy of words, but not with truth.”
In his welcome address, Viveck Goenka, Chairman of the Express Group, outlined the trajectory of Kovind’s public life in the last 40 years, and said it “passes across institutions that are the very lifeblood of our democracy — from the campus to the courts, the legislature, the Raj Bhavan and now Rashtrapati Bhavan”.
“We couldn’t have had a chief guest who better encapsulates the values we celebrate this evening,” he said.
Referring to the 14th year of the Awards, Goenka said: “This evening is a testament to the unshakable fact that despite all the noise around us, good journalism is alive, good journalism is well. What else explains that this year we had a record number of entries: 920, each one vetted and pitched as the finest work of an individual or a news organisation.”
Congratulating the winners, he said their stories “ask questions with fairness and empathy, they take neither a No nor a Yes for an answer but relentlessly search for what lies in between, they are firm in their resolve to embrace complexity, not reduce the story to either pro this or anti that”.
Anant Goenka, Executive Director of the Express Group, presented Kovind with a portrait of the President drawn by Suvajit Dey, Illustrator, The Indian Express.
Among those present at the ceremony were Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, JD(U) leader K C Tyagi, CPI leader D Raja, eminent jurist Fali Nariman, former ABVP national organising secretary Sunil Ambekar, Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, and Principal Director-General of Press Information Bureau Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia.
In his address, Raj Kamal Jha, Chief Editor, The Indian Express, referred to the ongoing protests as opening up a public square and creating a space that may look divided but was valuable for journalism because it was home to voices never heard before.
Lost in the tu-tu mein-mein (on Faiz’s poem), Jha said, was the poet’s idea linking the main and the tum. “Good journalism listens to both the main and the tum. It defines no cut-off date, it asks for no ID proof; all it needs is a pencil, a notebook, two feet firmly planted in the middle, however strong the tug may be from either side,” he said.
Administered by the Ramnath Goenka Memorial Foundation, the Awards celebrate excellence in journalism, recognise courage and commitment and showcase the outstanding contributions of journalists from across the country.
This time, the winning entries covered a wide range of topics: From a series on sexual abuse of children in villages to children making their way through a river and walking over a 20-ft pipeline to go to school; from how uranium mining affects local communities to an investigation into faulty medical implants.
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