As part of the centenary year celebrations
of its founder, Ramnath Goenka, The Express Group instituted the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2004. The awards aim to celebrate excellence in journalism, recognise courage and commitment, and showcase outstanding contributions and individuals every year .
The Excellence in Journalism Awards honour journalists from both print and broadcast media who have shown extraordinary strength of character and integrity while reporting news accurately under dangerous or difficult circumstances. This edition includes reports that exposed major issues or problems like the plight of women scavengers, stings on our politicians taking money, courageous tales of children living with HIV-AIDS, to the people of Chagliyar community who are treated worse than animals. These are stories that provoked the public to recognise a major wrong and raised public awareness of the issue.
This year the awards also include a new category, namely, excellence in HIV-AIDS reporting. This is part of the media advocacy initiative of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and US Agency for International Development in collaboration with The Express Group.
The awards pay tribute to journalists who encourage public trust in the media by courageously practising the highest standards of their profession in the face of political or economic pressures.
This is collection of the award-winning entries along with personal anecdotes by the winner, an initiative by the Express Group celebrating ‘courage, enterprise and fairness’.
When the Ramnath Goenka foundation launched
the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2005, I had said that if the world’s oldest democracy has the Pulitzer Prize, the world’s largest democracy has to have an award that not only matches it but is also
more diverse in its sweep. I had hoped that an award with the reputation as the most prestigious and the most sought-after in newsrooms across the country could become an incentive for high quality journalism in India. I am
delighted that the winners of the 2006-2007 awards and their work more than vindicate that hope.
More important, they challenge a myth that seems to be gaining ground as the new convential wisdom in our business – that anyone can be a journalist. Today, everybody with a camera and a cell phone is a journalist and broadband is the holy grail of this new media. User-generated content is marching ahead and there are those who believe that the media, the editors or gatekeepers are no longer necessary. All you have to do is log on to You Tube for the latest breaking story.
Our business has changed in ways that we never imagined. A person witnessing an event today will have pulled out his cell phone and recorded it even before a reporter reaches the spot. There is a deluge of news on the Internet — views, news and more commonly views as news. What is unsaid and often forgotten is that we need someone to make sense of this deluge, to ensure that the viewer or reader keeps his head above water, realises which wave is treacherous, which wave is the real one and which wave is the tsunami.
It’s here that good journalists have to step in with the compass and searchlights. In the end, whatever the technology, whatever the trend, journalism must be an act of character: for never before has there been a more pressing need for the media to build public trust and credibility.
There must be a voice of authority that separate the accurate from the false, the noise from the news and is able to explain what they man.
There is another vital element to a journalist’s character and that is the courage and commitment to do those stories that don’t pass the ‘news you can use’ can test. All the prize-winning journalists who you will read in this compilation illustrate both aspects of this trust with their meticulous attention to accuracy and credibility and the commitment to stories that but for them would have never been sold.
Bill Cowan, the distinguished New York Times reporter, considered one of the conscience-keepers of American journalism defined eloquently the role of journalists in this rapidly changing media scene when he said journalism was, ‘An act built on the authority, honest and judgment of the people. When people decide what news to buy or what news is to be watched or what magazines is to be purchased, they are making a decision about the judgment, the character and the values of the journalists who have produced that news. In many ways those values are revealed every day when we decide what we don’t cover and how we cover it’.
The winners of the second Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards reaffirm our faith in journalism as an act of characters.
Iwould like to share with you ,an experience which
I had when I was a thirteen-year-old boy in 1944. It was during the Second World War. My eldest brother was a sub-agent for some newspapers including Swadesha Mitran and Dinamani. When he went to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for work, I had to take up his job of selling these two papers in the whole of Rameswaram. Since it was war time, I was very interested in the daily news, As soon as I used to get the newspaper packet, I would open the first copy of Dinamani to see how the Spitfire fighter aircraft was performing against the Luftwaffe. My interest in aeronautics germinated through the news in Dinamani.
In 1999, I was in Tel-Aviv. When I reached Tel-Aviv, the big news on TV was that the Hamas group had inflicted heavy damages on the Lebanese border and a number of soldiers had been killed. The next day, I didn’t find this news item on the first page of the newspapers. Instead, page one carried a report on a farmer from Russia, settled in a desert zone of Israel for the last three years. He had cultivated the best of vegetables and fruits in the desert area with a very high yield. The newspaper celebrated the success of the farmer. Obviously, people look for and deserve such news, which I consider as good examples of excellence in journalism.
I have a suggestion for editors, correspondents and reporters. In our country, it is essential to have research wings in every newspaper for training and developing media personnel in news reporting and event analysis. This research wing has to be linked to media research in academic institutions. It would enable our journalists to carry out original research on topics of national interest and provide solutions to medium and long-term problems. The owners of newspapers should encourage research by experienced and young reporters. This will improve the quality of content of the print media. Media practitioners must realise that continuous updating of knowledge through research is essential for all journalists. For example, before certain issues are printed in some foreign newspapers, they send it to an internal research group where the data is studied, verified and factual news is generated, and only then sent for publication.
When the issue of outsourcing to India became of critical interest, a US journalist stayed in India and studied the issue and found out that the companies engaged in Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs) were carrying out business where 90 per cent of the equipment was imported from the US and Europe. Thus, the BPO industries provided an indirect market for the hardware industries of USA and Europe. Immediately, this was reported in the Indian media in a big way. Similarly, journalist Thomas Friedman, who wanted to study India’s growth in Information Technology, came to India and stayed for a month and visited Bangalore and other places. Based on his news analysis he wrote a book titled The World is Flat. Such is the power
Promoting the cause of farmers: Often, I have seen media reports on the typical problems of farmers, particularly agricultural farmers in certain regions of the nation including Vidarbha. I believe that there has to be a team in each newspaper which understands such problems after an on the-spot study and highlights possible long-term and short-term solutions. I would like to dwell upon two important societal aspects which I came across that the media may like to think about.
During my visit to the drought-affected area of Vidarbha on 15 June 2007, I met some farmers at Yavatmal. They reiterated that cotton farmers have not been able to realise reasonable revenue from their farming operations. The output has been low and in some cases there has been a total toss due to frequent droughts. In some cases, the farmers have been supplied with Bt cotton seeds for a better yield. However, better yield from Bt cotton can come only when there is adequate supply of water. After discussions with the farmers and specialists, I found that there is need for an overview of the cotton farming operation in the region. This should include provisions of quality input, training the farmers on improved methods of farming or cultivation, marketing of the produce and action to be taken when there is a drought. To prevent severe drought, there is a need to create a large number of water bodies for rainwater harvesting which will be useful during the period of drought. In addition, there is a need for the local textile industry to work with farmers and provide them marketing support for their produce without going through middlemen. Also, the banking system should reach crei-v village in the Vidarbha district so that the farmers are not exploited by moneylenders. The e-Choupal system established by ITC Ltd in various areas allowed farmers to enhance their productivity and realise better value for -r products. There is also the model available in Gheri Buttar, Punjab e collaborative work among farmers, industries, research institutions and academic institutions has resulted in doubling the cotton productivity. I am of the view that relief and programme packages have to be combined with of implementation and targets, and an organisational structure and accountability for implementation.
Journalists may like to study the problem in detail and suggest ways to help the state governments find lasting solutions to the satisfaction of farmers.
National Emergency Service Mission: Every day we find road accidents and many other emergencies leading to loss of life and property which is much higher than the loss due to war or terror attacks. There is a method to save over a million lives every year and prevent the associated damages which has been put into practice in Andhra Pradesh. The Emergency Management and Research System in Hyderabad deals with various types of emergencies such as road traffic, accidents, and fire-related emergencies. They have developed a system which integrates multiple agencies to provide a quick and comprehensive emergency response. The emergency process begins with a call to the toll free number 108 either from a fixed line or a mobile phone. This enables timely arrival of an ambulance equipped with emergency first-aid equipment for the patient to be taken to the nearest medical aid centre. This programme has been launched in all the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh including in rural areas and is equipped with 380 ambulances. To date over 11,500 precious lives have been saved and the average response time realised between receiving a call and reaching a hospital has been reduced to thirty-six minutes. The facility is available to all citizens for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This programme is also being launched in some other states. It should be extended to all states and union territories in the country. That will enable reception of about one million calls per day and save one million lives a year.
A partnership for the mission has to come from the government, healthcare centres, and the corporate world in both public and private sectors, police and district authorities and societal organizations. Journalists can play a very important role in realising this mission by effectively articulating all aspects to stakeholders of the programme and quantifying the benefits which can accrue to society.
Journalism is truth expressed in intelligible language for the information and education of the readers. True journalism vitalises the nation. There is no room for sensationalism in it even if in the short run it might sell. It will be sheer sacrilege. True journalism is courageous, truthful, inspiring and exalting.
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