Underlining the importance of credibility and courage in journalism, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Friday that only “honest journalism” can strengthen the nation and make democracy “brighter and healthier”.
“Everyone acknowledges that journalism is the guardian of democracy, the barometer of democracy… The stronger the journalist and journalism, the brighter and healthier will be democracy. As long as the guardian is vigilant and fearless, democracy shines more,” the Home Minister said, delivering the keynote address at the 13th edition of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in New Delhi.
Singh was speaking after presenting awards to 29 winners in 18 categories — across print, broadcast and purely-digital — for outstanding work done in 2017.
Outlining his roadmap for Indian journalism and the challenges that lie ahead, the Home Minister said: “Only honest journalism does the job of strengthening the nation. It not only strengthens the nation but also India’s democracy… I believe journalism should be fearless, unbiased with the national interest in mind. These should form the basis for the test of journalism.”
To make his point, Singh referred to the role played by The Indian Express and its founder Ramnath Goenka during the Emergency. “Ramnath Goenka lit a lamp, kept the flame alive in a tempest… By opposing the Emergency, the credibility of The Indian Express rose so much that the government felt the need to have the Express, but even today I can say that The Indian Express does not need any government,” he said.
He said that media “should show the mirror to the government”. “But the mirror should not be coloured, this affects credibility,” he said.
“The mentality that there can be no friendship between the government and the media is not right. Anyone can make a mistake. But I believe that even if there is no friendship, there should be no enmity between these two pillars,” he said.
Singh also described journalism as the “khabarpalika”, the fourth pillar of democracy, that stands alongside “vidhayika, karyapalika and nyaypalika (legislature, executive and judiciary)”.
Pointing to the challenges that he feared “journalism of today” was facing, Singh warned against “mixing news and views” and said that “sometimes, those who are working against the country’s Constitution and system also get space”.
“When I see lines like ‘Naxals are Gandhians with guns’… I can’t imagine this. Gandhi with gun? There is talk of human rights for those who indulge in violence, kill people. What about the soldiers who fight to protect the country, don’t they have any human rights?” he said.
“Social media too is a challenge… It’s the challenge of fake news, paid news, sponsored news, coloured news. It remains to be seen how journalism deals with this,” Singh said.
He reminded the media that it was the credibility built over years that defined the relationship between the media and the people. “The media needs to remain vigilant that this faith is not shaken,” Singh said.
In his welcome address, Viveck Goenka, Chairman of the Express Group, highlighted Singh’s formidable record in public life and said that he “belongs to that spirited generation which fought Emergency first hand”. “(He) challenged, with his moral conviction, the erosion of our fundamental rights. And worked hard to ensure that we got our democracy back. Which makes him, for all of us at The Indian Express, a kindred spirit,” Goenka said.
Congratulating the winners, he said, “Good journalism is its own reward, it strengthens our profession, and a good story, well told, fairly and accurately, is the most powerful counter to those who try to shut us up.”
Anant Goenka, Executive Director of the Express Group, presented Singh with a portrait of him drawn by C R Sasikumar, chief illustrator, The Indian Express.
Among those present at the awards ceremony were Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh; Union Ministers Piyush Goyal and K J Alphons; National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah; BJP leaders Bhupender Yadav, G V L Narasimha Rao, Sudhanshu Trivedi, Anil Baluni and Manoj Tiwari; Congress leaders Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Manish Tewari; AAP’s Sanjay Singh; CPI veteran D Raja; JD(U)’s K C Tyagi; SP’s Javed Ali Khan; TMC’s Derek O’Brien; and, Justice (retd) A P Shah.
Delivering the vote of thanks, Raj Kamal Jha, Chief Editor, The Indian Express, referred to these guests and said: “In times deeply divided, there couldn’t be a better story than having such a mahagathbandhan acknowledge good journalism.”
The presentation of awards was followed by a panel discussion on the subject, ‘#MeToo in the Newsroom: What editors can and should do’.
The panel had four women editors and newsroom leaders: Dhanya Rajendran, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute; Meenal Baghel, editor of Mumbai Mirror; Ritu Kapur, co-founder and chief executive officer of The Quint; and Rupa Jha, head of Indian Languages, BBC World Service.
The discussion, which was moderated by The Indian Express Deputy Editor Seema Chishti, was followed by a Q&A session with the audience.
The Express Group instituted the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2005 as part of the centenary year celebrations of its founder, Ramnath Goenka. The awards aim to 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 illegal beach sand mining in Tamil Nadu and corruption in slum projects to an inside look at the Doklam crisis, the rise of women cricketers from Punjab and the horror of encephalitis in eastern UP.