Speeches, stellar journalism, and selfies with Anurag Thakur: It’s the Ramnath Goenka awards

CJI Chandrachud, as chief guest, had a lot to say on journalism as a ‘beacon of truth’.

WrittenBy:Tanishka Sodhi
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“The press must remain free if the country has to remain a democracy,” said Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, speaking at the 16th Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards held in Delhi today.

His words were true but it was the timing that was immaculate. Minutes after the CJI, who was the chief guest at the awards, said this, information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur walked into the auditorium. 

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. It featured clips from luminaries like Amit Shah, Arun Jaitely, Venkaiah Naidu, Bill Gates and Kuldip Nayar praising Goenka and his legacy. Of course, it wouldn’t be a tribute if the video didn’t start with prime minister Narendra Modi talking about Goenka – so that’s what viewers got. 

CJI Chandrachud’s speech was tailor-made to 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 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.”

Selfies and starlight 

Away from these words of wisdom was a battalion of politicians in attendance, including Thakur, Kapil Sibal, Sanjay Singh, Manish Tiwari, Sanjal Jaiswal and Derek O’Brien. But it was Thakur whom people flocked towards after the ceremony to snap a selfie or two. Rahul Kanwal got one too. Former Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta was also present (the CJI referred to him during his speech while using the phrase “cut the clutter”)

Indian Express editor in chief Raj Kamal Jha offered some levity during his vote of thanks, joking, “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.”

Jha, who was dressed in his trademark black albeit with bright red socks, said the CJI’s vision for a free press “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.

“For journalists and journalism, year after year, case after case, their starlight has illuminated the road ahead,” Jha continued. “...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.”

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.

Hindi, 2019

Print: Anand Chaudhary, Dainik Bhaskar

Broadcast: Sushil Kumar Mohapatra, NDTV India

Hindi, 2020

Print: Jyoti Yadav and Bismi Taskin, The Print

Broadcast: Ashutosh Mishra, Aaj Tak

Regional Languages, 2019

Print: Aniket Vasant Sathe, Loksatta

Broadcast: Sunil Baby, Media One TV

Regional Languages, 2020

Print: Sreelakshmi M, Rose Maria Vincent, Shabitha MK, Mathrubhumi.com

Broadcast: Shrikant Bengali, BBC News Marathi

Uncovering India Invisible, 2019 

Print: Shiv Sahay Singh, The Hindu

Broadcast: Tridip K Mandal, The Quint

Uncovering India Invisible, 2020

Print: Team Thomson Reuters

Broadcast: Sanjay Nandan, ABP News

Politics and Government, 2020

Broadcast: Bipasha Mukherjee, India Today TV

Politics and Government, 2019

Print: Dheeraj Mishra, The Wire

Broadcast: Simi Pasha, The Wire

Environment, Science and Technology Reporting, 2020

Print: Manish Mishra, Amar Ujala

Broadcast: Faye D’Souza and Arun Rengaswamy, Freemedia Interactive

Environment, Sciences and Technology Reporting, 2019

Print: Team PARI

Broadcast: Team Scroll.in

Business and Economic Journalism, 2020

Print: Omkar Khandekar, HT-Mint

Business and Economic Journalism, 2019

Print: Sumant Banerji, Business Today

Broadcast: Ayushi Jindal, India Today TV

Investigative Reporting, 2019

Print: Kaunain Sheriff M, Indian Express

Broadcast: S Mahesh Kumar, Manorama News

Investigative Reporting, 2020

Print: Tanushree Pandey, India Today

Broadcast: Milan Sharma, India Today TV

Foreign Correspondent Covering India, 2020

Joanna Slater, The Washington Post

Sports, 2019

Print: Nihal Koshie, Indian Express

Broadcast: Team NewsX

Sports, 2020

Print: Mihir Vasavda, Indian Express

Broadcast: Ajay Singh, NDTV India

Reporting on Arts, Culture and Entertainment, 2020

Print: Tora Agarwala, Indian Express

Prakash Kardaley Memorial Award for Civic Journalism, 2019

Print: Chaitanya Marpakwar, Mumbai Mirror

Prakash Kardaley Memorial Award for Civic Journalism, 2020

Print: Shaikh Atikh Rashid, Indian Express

Photo Journalism, 2019

Zishaan A Latif, The Caravan

Photo Journalism, 2020

Tarun Rawat, The Times of India

Books (Non Fiction) 2019

Arun Mohan Sukumar, Penguin Random House, India

Books (Non Fiction) 2020

Tripurdaman Singh, Penguin Random House, India


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