The Ramnath Goenka Awards for Excellence in Journalism are truly a fitting tribute to the man they are named after, who would never get bogged down by the difficult circumstances that came his way in delivering unbiased news to people. He was a warrior for the freedom of the press, and will always be remembered for his efforts to strengthen the fourth pillar of democracy.
The Goenka awards have become a benchmark for quality journalism in print and TV. I never got to personally meet Ramanath Goenka, but who is not aware of his fearlessness? He raised issues relevant to the common man, to society and to politics, and effectively highlighted the weaknesses and drawbacks of the administration. In this way, he contributed to the strengthening of democracy. During the Emergency, he gave the media a new direction.
Journalists who have carried out their professional responsibilities in the most remarkable manner and done exemplary work in their chosen area are being awarded. I believe they will continue to raise visible and invisible issues in order to spread knowledge and awareness among the people, and will carry on the fight for a more aware citizenry, mature democracy and transparent governance.
The press and its freedom are an inseparable part of any democracy. In our struggle for independence, the media played a big role in uniting people and raising awareness among them. Many of our leaders were actively associated with newspapers in delivering their thoughts to the people, in criticising the foreign administration and circulating ideas among them. All this happened despite the colonial government’s efforts to regulate and control the press.
The media is the fourth pillar of democracy. The level of responsibility and transparency expected of the other pillars is equally expected of the press. A free and fearless press benefits society and the nation. Today, technology has changed, the nature of competition among media companies has changed, society is being transformed and values are being redefined. In such fast-changing times, reporters bring the important issues to the people’s attention. The dissemination of information is thus an effective medium to empower the people in a democracy.
The range of the media’s work has grown. Along with news about entertainment and personalities, if you could fill your pages with news about environment, health, education, society, cities and villages, it would help in the progress of the nation. One always expects the media to take a positive approach because it has contributed immensely to freedom, to the building of a nation in the past, and to strengthening it now. If news is factual and fearless, its effect is wider and deeper.
A democracy is made stronger if its people are aware. The freedom of the press is an indicator of the health of democracy. From the days of the freedom struggle, the media has played an important role. They have stirred people to rise in protest for the cause of the nation. Our freedom fighters had also made newspapers a weapon in their fight. Be it Mahatma Gandhi or Lokmanya Tilak, both used the might of the paper and the pen.
The creators of our Constitution made the freedom of expression and self-expression a crucial part of the fundamental rights of citizens. After Independence, under the new order, along with keeping a close eye on theadministration, the media has been a means to inform the people as well as to give a voice to their grievances.
We all know that with rights come duties. No freedom or right can be unlimited. So, while we have press freedom, the press has to carry out that responsibility with great care because it influences the minds of the audience and readers. Investigative or serious reports that point out the flaws in the system, the corruption in the administration, or the special problems that afflict different sections of society are of great value because they help us move towards creating a better nation.
With the emergence of new technologies, 24-hour news channels and websites that get updated every minute, there is no doubt that there are new challenges before the media. However, the means to face this competition and to stay in the race should also be honest and unbiased. It is very sad to see these powerful mediums being used for vested interests at times. You should guard against unnecessary sensationalism and viciously critical stories.
This is also relevant to the coverage of parliamentary proceedings. Yes, it is true that the proceedings are disrupted, but it is also true that there are extensive discussions in the two Houses and that parliamentary committees meet regularly and present their reports. As a parliamentarian, I’ve felt that, many a time, high-quality and important debates in the House have not got importance in newspapers, magazines and TV channels. Instead, what is going on in Parliament is distorted and shown. Though I praise the media for highlighting misconduct and corruption in public life, I also want it to make a special effort to give due importance to the constructive debates inside the House. If parliamentary activity doesn’t get appropriate coverage in the media, the whole purpose of democracy will be defeated.
In the end, I would only say this: “It’s preferable to tell the truth. But what is better is to say that which will benefit all.”
Edited and excerpted from a speech delivered at the seventh edition of the Ramnath Goenka Awards for Excellence in Journalism. Mahajan is speaker of the Lok Sabha