1,313 applications, Gadkari worried about ‘vichar shunyata’: It’s the 2024 Ramnath Goenka awards

Newslaundry and The News Minute won a total of four awards.

WrittenBy:NL Team
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Not a gigantic number, but if you ask The Indian Express chief editor Raj Kamal Jha, it’s enough to offer hope, “when every day we hear intimations of journalism’s mortality”.

“That’s the number of Ramnath Goenka award applications that we got this year. 1,313. That’s a record in the last 18 years since we launched the Ramnath Goenka award. A thousand plus journalists and more than a two dozen authors sending in their best work – stories and books – that very fact brings us hope. Hope when every day we hear intimations of journalism’s mortality,” the editor said, dressed in his trademark all black, in his concluding remarks at the 17th edition of the Ramnath Goenka awards for 2021 and 2022.  

Before Jha’s speech, 42 journalists from 22 newsrooms were awarded for their work across various print, digital and broadcast categories. 

Newslaundry won two awards at the event. Ayush Tiwari and Basant Kumar won in the environment, science and technology category for the plunder of the Aravalli series. Hridayesh Joshi’s video report on arsenic in water triggering diseases in several villages, supported by the Thakur Foundation, won the award in the Hindi broadcast category.

The News Minute also won two awards. While Azeefa Fathima, Balakrishnan Ganesan, and Prajwal Bhat won in the civic journalism category for their five-part series on exposing manual scavenging, Prajwal’s reports on the 2022 hijab protests in Karnataka won in the political reporting category.

Besides the trophy, the award carried a citation and a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh.   

The jury included Justice B N Srikrishna, jurist and former judge, Supreme Court of India; professor (Dr) C Raj Kumar, founding dean, Jindal Global Law School and director, International Institute for Higher Education Research and Capacity Building; Dr SY Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India; and KG Suresh, vice chancellor of Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism and Communication, Bhopal.

Among other stories that were awarded were those that focused on the plight of mothers in Kerala jails, shoddy police investigation in lynching cases, the functioning of the Election Commission of India, made in China wheels for the Indian railways, extraordinary surveillance of human rights activists, hardships faced by healthcare workers during Covid, the Udupi Hijab row, a promising boxer’s descent into the world of crime, disappearance of PM Cares funds for vaccine development, fragility of the Himalayas, trafficked boys’ testimonies leading to the arrest of the accused, manual scavenging, best practices in waste management, loopholes in the recruitment exams etc.

But the chief guest and star attraction was Union minister for road, transport and highways Nitin Gadkari, who, in the words of the Indian Express Group’s chairman and managing editor Viveck Goenka, “even the opposition secretly wants him to win”. Delhi L-G VK Saxena, BJP MP Ravishankar Prasad, former Rajya Sabha member KC Tyagi and MP Danish Ali were in the audience.

“In this changing society, we should never leave our basics. The Supreme Court too has said in the Kesavananda Bharati case that salient features of the Constitution can’t be changed,” the minister said.

Gadkari was in Class 10 when the Emergency was imposed in 1975. “It was worrisome. Newspapers were censored. One person has become our source of inspiration for his struggle against Emergency,” he said, referring to The Indian Express founder Ramnath Goenka.

Gadkari said he would have never joined politics had the Emergency not been imposed.

In this changing world, the media may have to recalibrate its coverage. “People are not interested in who said what in politics. Today’s generation is hungry for knowledge and science. They are worried about international best practices. How to protect the environment and ecology is their concern. This generation is conscious of ethics, economy, environment and ecology,” Gadkari said. 

A specialised journalist can give vision to people, the minister said. “Differences are not our problem. No views (vichar shunyata) is. We are neither leftist nor rightist… this is worrisome.”

In his welcome address, Vivek Goenka listed Gadkari’s initiatives. “Thirty years ago, he transformed mobility in Mumbai,” he said, lauding the minister for a bigger road network, EV and clean energy push etc. “Nothing renews journalism than celebrating this (recognizing best works) each year.”

Meanwhile, Jha, in his vote of thanks, shared his take, peppered with puns, on the media landscape. 

“We had a judge in the high court who told a reporter in open court who wrote a mildly unflattering – but fair – story: ‘I don’t want to see you report on this court.’ The same judge resigns, joins a political party and he is all sugar and honey when everybody sings his praise. There is a journalist as well who joins another political party and gets a ticket. We have a journalist in the city who has to leave the city after living in the city for two decades because she wrote a malicious story. We have a leader. When a journalist asked him a question, he said: ‘Aapke malik ka kya naam hain’ (what’s the name of your media house’s owner?) When a mob of his supporters roughed up the journalist, he said: ‘Mat maaro yaar, usko mat maro’ (Don’t beat him up). Then we have a few maliks (media owners) who have gone down on bended knees. So comfortable in their posture that it hurts if they stand up,” he said.  

He continued in his inimitable style. “There is an ease of doing business, and there is a very specific unease of doing journalism.”

After his vote of thanks, the winners came together for a group photo. And then the stage was empty, for winners to mob it with their relatives for more pictures.


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