‘Even if there isn’t friendship between govt and media, there shouldn’t be animosity’https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/ramnath-goenka-excellence-journalism-awards-rajnath-singh-speech-5527557/

‘Even if there isn’t friendship between govt and media, there shouldn’t be animosity’

If I say that that during the Emergency, Ramnath Goenka lit a lamp in the middle of a tempest, it would not be an exaggeration. And the lamp he lit stayed alive despite the tempest.

Rajnath Singh speech ramnath goenka awards
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh delivers a speech at the Ramnath Goenka Awards in New Delhi. (Express Photo)

Looking at certain leaders sitting before me, I find myself in a piquant situation. If I speak about the late Ramnath Goenka and his role during and after the Emergency, I am going to feel a bit hesitant, given that some of our friends from the Congress are sitting here. You could say that one should speak openly. But you know there is some courtesy one has to extend. Democracy functions through such courtesies. But all of them are friends and they won’t mind whatever I am going to say here, at least at this time.

I would like to say that I feel very happy to be here. Normally, I do not consent to appear at events. But the moment I was told about this programme, I agreed. There was only one reason for that: The great respect I have for Ramnath Goenkaji.

It was the time of Emergency. I was in Naini jail. Before that, I had been in solitary confinement. There were teachers from Allahabad University and leaders from various political parties in the Naini Central Jail, and barely a day went by when Goenka was not discussed in the jail. I never met him personally. But whatever I had heard about him in those days had created an impression on me, and that is why I readily agreed to be here.

I congratulate all media persons who have been awarded for their work today. In the world of journalism, Ramnath Goenka was known for his excellence. It is good that the management, and respected Viveck Goenkaji, named the award after Ramnath Goenka and called it “Excellence in Journalism”. The identity of a person or an institution is based on how he deals with crises and overcomes them. Only after determining this can we arrive at the true identity or character of the person.

Advertising

If I say that that during the Emergency, Ramnath Goenka lit a lamp in the middle of a tempest, it would not be an exaggeration. And the lamp he lit stayed alive despite the tempest. I believe, not only the world of journalism but also the democratic system of this country, will remain eternally grateful for the work that Goenkaji did during and after the Emergency. The line that The Indian Express drew under the leadership of Ramnath Goenka during all that happened during the Emergency, and on issues of corruption in the period after, will remain indelible. I am not saying this because I am at an Indian Express function; I am saying this from the depths of my heart.

Several political leaders were in jail at that time. We did not know what the future will hold for us. But as the public mood began changing, several leaders began hoping for a shot at power after the Emergency. But Ramnath Goenka had no such dreams — even though he would have a major role to play in the regime change, he was not concerned with power. He just continued his struggle. For opposing Emergency, the credibility of The Indian Express reached such heights that the government came to feel the need for The Indian Express, but, even today I can say, The Indian Express does not need the government. Such is the credibility that has been earned by this group.

I still remember when the Rajiv Gandhi government brought the Anti-defamation Bill. That scene is still fresh before my eyes. At that time, an attempt was made to curtail press freedom. Ramnath Goenka did not sit silently and rebelled against the move. I remember he led a delegation that walked to the Parliament. The Indian Express has a special character, and almost 100 per cent contribution towards this is of Ramnath Goenka. You all are aware of what The Indian Express did during the freedom struggle. It was established on the call of Gandhiji who wanted public atrocities to be highlighted. And on Gandhi’s call, The Indian Express had participated in this battle for justice with great vigour. It went on to play an important role in highlighting British atrocities.

People talk about freedom of expression today, but I do not understand where they were then. Did they talk about freedom of expression then? I believe no one needs to answer this question. We should try to look for an answer ourselves. The Indian Express was established in 1932. It was an act of great courage. If I say that courage was in the DNA of Ramnath Goenka, then it would not be an exaggeration. The Indian Express’s tagline is “Journalism of Courage”. It is a reality that was lived by its founder. And this reality is an inspiration to all journalists today.

Even before Independence, newspapers used to be a medium of influencing socio-political consciousness. During the struggle to shape public opinion, several leaders came out with newspapers. Be it Mahatma Gandhi’s Harijan and Young India, Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s Sambad Kaumudi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Kesari, Bipin Chandra Pal’s Paridarshak, Maulana Azad’s Al-Hilal, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi’s Pratap or Madan Mohan Malaviya’s Leader. The British atrocity was at its peak then. I truly believe in what Akbar Allahabadi has said: “Kheencho na kamanon ko na talwar nikalo/Jab tope muqaabil ho to akhbar nikalo” (Neither pull the string of your bow, nor unsheathe your sword/when facing the canon, bring out a newspaper). The way the war of Independence was fought, I think what he said was true. A newspaper not only gives strength to the country but also strengthens democracy.

Sometimes, we see attempts to sensationalise a news item. I believe attempts at sensationalising news or spicing it up are an insult to journalism. And I can say that the late Ramnath Goenka never let journalism be insulted as long as he was alive. There must have been many incidents in the lives of the leaders sitting here. In our lives, too, there have been incidents. A few days ago, a news item unrelated to me appeared on a website. It said that a scamster who had swindled Rs 3,700 crore was close to me. I was shown handing over a memorandum to him. We are representatives and hundreds of people come to meet us. Who has given this memorandum? What is there in it? This can be known only after it comes in hand. Nowadays, everyone has a mobile phone. Who took this photograph? I can’t say whether I know this man or not. But it would have been better if he had verified it with me. He should have asked whether something like this happened or not. But such things happen sometimes. I believe we should all try to avoid such things. Most people take criticism sportingly, as I have tried to do.

Journalism should be judged on the yardstick of fairness, fearlessness and national interest. If it passes this test, then that journalism would be known for its excellence. We also need to be cautious that journalism that is against the nation or provides cover for any kind of disruption, divisiveness or corruption, can be an agenda of a person or an institution, but it cannot be journalism.

I see that at a young age, to get ahead of the competition, sometimes such news is published. We must stay away from such journalism. I also want to suggest to my journalist friends that if any person, organisation or institution attacks you, you must answer it through journalism alone. It can be done through the newspaper. The late Ramnath Goenka proved this.

Everyone says journalism is the watchdog of democracy. I say it is also the barometer of democracy. The stronger the newspaper and journalism gets, the healthier will be the democracy and the brighter it will shine. The more fearless and alert the watchdog is, the more brightly democracy will shine. Journalism has been called the fourth pillar of democracy: Vidhaika, Karyapalika, Nyaypalika, and, Khabarpalika, the fourth pillar.

You would agree that journalism does not have a simple relationship with the people. It is not a relationship of flexibility. It is a relationship of credibility, built over several years of hard work. So we have to remain vigilant that the faith people repose in journalism is not shaken in any situation. If Ramnath Goenka continues to live in our hearts, it is a result of that credibility and faith, earned through hard work. We know there are people who desire to stand by the truth but are unable to do so. For such people Ramnath Goenka is an inspiration.

I know he had to pay a heavy price for fighting the Emergency. The situation had become so bad that he once told Nanaji Deshmukh, one of his closest friends, that “I came here with a lota and a pair of dhoti, I will go back but I will not compromise with my principles”. I too know for a fact there wasn’t enough money, even to buy newsprint. People used to say that the situation had become so bad that women in the family had decided to sell their jewellery to run the press.

At one point, he decided to shut the paper instead of bending. If he had given in then I think — as we saw in the presentation just now — it would be called a paper but not a credible newspaper. Even while fighting the British, he never bothered about the survival of his newspaper. The Indian Express was among the first newspapers that was shut for supporting Gandhiji’s Quit India Movement, after the British issued a gag order.

I would like to quote what Ramnath Goenka once wrote in an editorial: The human civilisation is struggling for its independence. But what does it mean until it includes the freedom of our country? So, this will be a paper but not a newspaper. So, I have decided this is going to be our last edition.

During Emergency, The Indian Express also published a blank editorial. There could be no stronger message against the Emergency.

Today, social media is rising as a big challenge to conventional media. There are challenges in the form of fake news, sponsored news, paid news and coloured news. It remains to be seen how the world of journalism deals with these. But I believe the importance of conventional media, as against social media, will continue as long as it is able to maintain the credibility of the news reports.

Fake news is not something unprecedented. It happens on social media sometimes. I was reading a report on December 30 in The Hindu, where I learnt that Der Spiegel’s reporter, Claas Relotius, had been faking news for years. He had been reporting on events that never happened. What was the result? When the management came to know about this, all the awards that he had received over the years were revoked and he was sacked. We have to guard against such situations.

I have seen the power of media. Sometimes, reports of newspapers — reports which are in public interest and important for the country — are taken cognisance of by the Supreme Court. The Court also issues orders based on these reports. I also believe that to err is human. So if we commit a mistake, we must accept it without hesitation. Accepting one’s mistake is an act of courage. A person with a small heart cannot accept his mistake. It is done by large-hearted people.

I also believe that the media should also play the role of a bridge between the government and the people. I can say that The Indian Express, and certain other newspapers, are fulfilling this responsibility very well. That the government and media must remain adversaries is not a good mentality. There can be mistakes. But I believe that between these two pillars, even if there is no friendship, there should be no feeling of animosity. I know several newspapers take care of this.

Media organisations are committed to national interest and they understand their responsibility. But, sometimes, even elements which are engaged in a movement to finish the constitutional and democratic structure of this country, get the support of the media. I am saying this because sometimes certain people write — here I am fulfilling the responsibility as India’s home minister — “Naxals are Gandhians with a gun”. When such things are published — forgive me, some people may get offended — but when I read such lines, I am shocked. Gandhi and gun together? How did that happen?

And sometimes, there is talk of human rights in support of those who indulge in violence and kill people. What about the human rights of our soldiers who are fulfilling the responsibility of protecting the nation? Don’t they have human rights? But I know several people are careful about this. And we must take care of this.

I also believe that the media should show the mirror to power. But the mirror must not be coloured. As soon as the mirror becomes coloured, its credibility comes under a doubt. So we have to be careful about this as well.

We may have differing views and ideologies. I know there are media houses which have a certain ideology and thought. But do not try to mix it up with news. Newspapers should publish news as news. There are other spaces to express views in a newspaper.

Advertising

I feel fortunate that I am here today. And the credibility that Ramnath Goenka built for this paper will sustain in future as well. But I would also like to say that we should emulate the values he practised and protected throughout his life. I congratulate all who were awarded this evening. Those who did not get an award, I am sure, they will put in enough efforts in the future and will be awarded.