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Raj Kamal Jha: “…When a reporter is arrested under a law meant for terrorists”

The 16th Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards was held in Delhi today and the ceremony took place at a Delhi hotel.

The Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards was the first event in three years, ever since the COVID pandemic began. CJI Chandrachud, as chief guest, had a lot to say on journalism as a ‘beacon of truth’.

At the event of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, the event opened with a speech by Indian Express editor-in-chief Raj Kamal Jha:  “The court has kept pushing back at the state to expand our freedoms.  That’s why when the lights dim; when a reporter is arrested under a law meant for terrorists; when another is arrested for asking a question; when a university teacher is picked up for sharing a cartoon, a college student for a speech, a film star for a comment; or when a rejoinder to a story comes in the form of a police FIR we turn to the North Star for its guiding light.”

When Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud spoke, he said, “The press must remain free if the country has to remain a democracy.”

After he said this, information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur walked into the auditorium.

A netizen commented:  “Faces of  @rsprasad & @ianuragthakur were worth having a look at. Wish our law minister @KirenRijiju could have also graced the occasion. There is lot riding on Hon’ble SC judge Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and it’s not just in the present that deprived, Marginalized, Victimized, socially & economically targetted are looking upto him as their north star. It’s also the future.. where we Indians as a whole want to live a fearless, prosperous, loving life. Which we still know as the Indian way of living. Our star has to fight harder than all of us combined. His resistance to injustice and arbitrariness might need our backing.
We Indians have got your back.”

The ceremony took place at a Delhi hotel in its first event in three years, ever since the COVID pandemic began. The winners for 2020 were announced today while the winners in 2019, who never had their own ceremony, were handed their awards too. In total, 37 stories across 27 newsrooms took home trophies.

The ceremony started with a short video about Indian Express founder Ramnath Goenka. Of course, it also started with Prime Minister Narendra Modi talking about Goenka. It featured clips from dynamos like Amit Shah, Arun Jaitely, Venkaiah Naidu, Bill Gates and Kuldip Nayar praising Goenka and his legacy.

CJI Chandrachud’s speech highlighted the challenges and opportunities facing journalism today. He talked about how journalism contributed to developments in the Hathras case, identifying administrative loopholes during COVID, the migrant exodus during the lockdown, and unravelling India’s #MeToo movement.

He told the audience journalism is the “beacon of truth that drives us to a better tomorrow” and the “engine that drives democracy forward”. “As we gravitate towards the challenges of the digital age,” he added, “it’s more important than ever for journalists to maintain standards of impartiality.”

These challenges include fake news and media trials, and also the media industry’s appalling lack of diversity. “Fake news poses a serious threat to society,” the CJI said. “It is the collective responsibility of journalists and stakeholders to eliminate bias from the process of reporting events. A comprehensive fact-checking mechanism should be in place before.”

He also said fake news has the potential to “create tensions between communities” which is why it’s important to “fix the gap between truth and lie”.

The CJI shared his memories of the Emergency. He had been 15 years at the time and said Indian Express’s blank page in lieu of an editorial was a defining moment. “It is a reminder to us,” he said, “that you can be as powerful in silence as you can in speech.” He added that fearful times give rise to fearless journalists, like Ramnath Goenka.

The day’s chief guest had words of consolation for journalists who didn’t win. “You’re no less in the game of life for yours is a noble profession. To have chosen it all, especially when more lucrative options are available and to continue to pursue it despite the many difficulties that arise, is admirable,” he said.

Finally, CJI Chandrachud said journalists and lawyers – or judges, in his case – do have some things in common. “Both professions are fierce believers that the pen is mightier than the sword, but they also share the occupational hazard of being disliked by the virtue of their professions, which is not an easy cross to bear,” he said. “My judicial clerks have been telling me in recent times that I’m added to the list, that I better not scroll down Twitter.”

Fireball politicians such as Manish Tiwari, Anurag Thakur, Kapil Sibal, Sanjay Singh, Sanjay Jaiswal and Derek O’Brien graced the occasion

Indian Express editor-in-chief Raj Kamal Jha lightheartedly joked during his vote of thanks, “We have the privilege of the presence of the honourable Chief Justice. And there is absolutely nothing in a sealed cover. This is a vote of thanks but in the times we live in, I want to say there will be no vote – there will just be thanks here.”

Raj Kamal Jha said he “affirms our faith that the Supreme Court will remain the North Star” – a hat tip to the CJI using the same turn of phrase during a speech in January.

Complete list of winners

The categories this year cover print, digital and broadcast, as well as investigative, politics, sports, books, feature writing, and regional language.

The jury this year included Justice BN Srikrishna (retired); Prof (Dr) C Raj Kumar, founding vice-chancellor and dean, OP Jindal Global University; Dr SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner; and KG Suresh, vice-chancellor, Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism and Communication.

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