“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 .
“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.
Print: Anand Chaudhary, Dainik Bhaskar
Broadcast: Sushil Kumar Mohapatra, NDTV India
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
Print: Nihal Koshie, Indian Express
Broadcast: Team NewsX
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