Archive | July, 2010

Freedoms to question

27 Jul


I am happy to be present at this event to confer the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards. I am impressed that these awards are being given for achievements ranging from civic journalism to investigative reporting, and for subjects like “Uncovering India invisible” and “On the spot reporting”. This wide array of awards depicts the vast canvass of activities covered by journalists in India. I am confident that those who have been conferred the awards will continue to contribute to the development of journalism in the country.

Ramnath Goenka, in whose name these awards have been instituted, was the founder of The Indian Express, well respected for his commitment to promoting excellence in journalism. He was a multi-faceted personality — a media baron and an industrialist, a politician and an opinion maker. He has been most aptly described by veteran journalist Shri B.G. Verghese as “a patriarch of the press”, who had presided over a media empire spanning the country in seven languages. He was ever willing to contribute to national causes. He participated enthusiastically in our independence movement. In fact, the growth of journalism in India has been intrinsically linked with our freedom struggle. Indian publications and Indian journalists, of that period, like Ramnath Goenka, joined in the efforts to give expression to the collective aspirations of the people for freedom and also participated in the freedom struggle. For Gandhiji, his journals Navjeevan, Young India and Harijan were platforms through which he communicated his ideas on a range of issues. His association with journalism made a deep impact on him. He said, “My newspapers became for me a training ground in self-restraint and a means for studying human nature in all its shades and variation. Without newspapers, a movement like Satyagraha could not have been possible.” These words capture the essence of journalism and the power of media. If at that time the objective was freedom from colonial rule, today the vision of a progressive India, a developed India and a nation with a leading voice in the world, inspires the entire nation. Journalism and the media are important participants in this process of nation building. I am confident that the media which is a vehicle for disseminating news and for shaping an enlightened public opinion will play its role of a catalyst for positive change. While doing its work, I hope that the media will always keep national safety and security interests in the forefront.

As we all are aware, the reach of media in the country has increased dramatically since Independence. Today, India is the second largest market in the world for newspapers. Our electronic media industry has been growing at a fast rate, and last year we had the fourth largest number of television stations in the world. The powerful voice of media has thus been further amplified with an augmentation in its speed and spread.

With a long tradition of freedom of press in the country and high professional standards, contemporary journalism can draw strength from this legacy. Its role as a promoter of goodwill in society and of creating awareness is enormous. There are many instances where media has highlighted the work and achievements of ordinary men and women who had deeply influenced society. I can frankly state that it is through your work, that I first came to know about the girls from Purulia in West Bengal, who stood up against child marriage, about a young environmentally conscious girl from Chhattisgarh who found a useful way of recycling plastic materials, and about a man with meagre income in Jharkhand, who was educating a group of orphans, to cite a few examples. Through such reporting, media has demonstrated its social conscience. To appreciate and encourage such commendable individual actions in society and this positive trend in media, I invited them, along with the reporters of these stories, to Rashtrapati Bhavan. I am sure that such good work will continue and media will cover social issues which impede progress and, in this context, profile the ability of ordinary people to overcome challenges.

Journalistic accounts are important chronicles of our time. Media should, therefore, encapsulate events objectively. Utmost care should be given to project the correct facts without sensationalising information. While our media is doing good work, it, like other professions, is operating in a dynamic environment and must constantly review and revalidate its role. There is also always scope for improvement in every human activity. I would recommend introspection as the route for self-assessment and course correction, if necessary.

To begin with, technologies are leading change in various sectors, requiring them to constantly change their working methodologies. Faster and most sophisticated manners of processing and disseminating information would require media to look at its delivery system at all times. Till a few years ago, the newspaper used to appear at our doorsteps every morning and there were the periodic magazines. Today, the media operates in a relentless 24-hour news cycle. In this situation, the newspaper headlines in the morning are no longer new. Therefore, while on the one hand, newspapers have to offer readers much more than what were the headlines on the TV screens yesterday, on the other hand, television channels have to constantly find ways of filling up the 24 hours. Sometimes, this can lead to a crisis of content. Issues can be trivialised, while trivial issues can become headlines. The impact of TRPs on news television channels is another issue on which some reflection is required, to determine programming content.

Media needs to assess how it can adapt itself in this era of new emerging technologies. Partnerships between newspapers, television and the new media as well as multi-media format of journalism, would require a journalist to be both media savvy and tech savvy. This would also mean that training modules for journalists would need to be modified.

Audience and readers are not only better informed but are becoming more demanding as well. Well researched articles are always welcomed by them. In a fast paced world, often it is in-depth research that suffers. Media organisations and news bureaus are as good as their research establishments and back offices. I would urge those present here to look at this aspect in the profession, and develop a strong research and data base in their organisations.

Today, the business environment has become very competitive. In an attempt to be the first to break the news, stories begin to be aired or come on the pages even before all facts have been fully verified and double checked. Honesty, integrity and conviction are the three fundamental characteristics that define a true professional journalist. These should never be compromised in your work. Moreover, the duties of journalism and the media can never be dictated by the market.

However, it appears that the world of media is seeking new revenue sources. This adds to the debate of costs and revenue factors in the functioning of the media. How would this impact its future growth? Another question is whether the search for revenues leads to the commercialisation of media and how this would influence its performance.

Before I close, I would like to say that media is a powerful tool in a democracy. Ours is the world’s largest democracy with a diversity of castes, religions and languages. Our population includes economically weak sections as also segments that are illiterate. Moreover, there is the potential of 540 million youth who constitute the majority. So, our media has an even greater role to play. It can influence the transformation of all these groups in our population into being tolerant, harmonious and having mutual understanding; ready to share their responsibilities of keeping this great country together and to sustain its democratic values. I do hope our media chooses to do this, as it has a great capacity to mould public opinion.

Excerpted from President Pratibha Devisingh Patil’s speech at the fourth Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, Delhi, July 22, 2010

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