At the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards organised by The Indian Express, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi honoured 37 journalists from across the country, Chief Editor Raj Kamal Jha sent a strong message to those in power and in the media: "Criticism from a government is wonderful news for journalism".
This comes at a time when NDTV India is facing a one-day ban on 9 November on the recommendation of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. This penalty is for allegedly revealing "strategically sensitive" details during the coverage of the Pathankot terrorist attack in January 2016.
The awards function also caused discomfort to some journalists such as Akshaya Mukul who refused to accept the award (and further boycotted the event) from Modi. Mukul was awarded the prize in the category of Books (non-fiction) for Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India, which looks into the making of Gita Press and its critical role in the formation of "Hindu political consciousness". This ironically clashes with the Prime Minister's politics (BJP and RSS, which finds its base in Hindutva).
In his speech, Jha thanked Modi for the latter's strong message on maintaining credibility in journalism and mentioned that it was the most important thing journalists can take away from his speech. He added that good journalism was, in fact, not dying but that "bad journalism makes lot more noise than it used to do five years ago".
Below is Raj Kamal Jha's speech in text:
"Thank you for your speech, Sir. Your being here is a very strong message. We hope that good journalism should be defined by the work we celebrate this evening, done by reporters who report and by editors who edit and not by the selfie journalists we see a lot these days, who are always obsessed by what they think, by their face, by their views, who keep the camera turned towards them, the only thing that matters to them is their own voice and their own face. All the rest is backdrop or silly background noise.
In this selfie journalism, if you don't have the facts, it doesn't matter. You just put a flag in the frame and you hide behind it. Thank you very much sir for your speech, for your wonderful underlining of the importance of credibility, I think that's the most important thing that we journalists can take away from your speech.
You said some wonderful things about journalists which makes us a little nervous. You may not find it in Wikipedia but Shri Ramnath Goenka, and it's a fact and I can say that as the editor of the Indian Express, he did sack a journalist when he heard a CM of a state telling him, "Aapka reporter bahot accha kaam kar raha hai".
That's very, very important, especially in this age, and I turn 50 this year and I can say that when we have a generation of journalists who are growing up in an age of "retweets" and "likes" and they do not know that criticism from a government is a badge of honour.
So just like what they do in smoking scenes in cinema, I think we should have a tape running in mind when we hear praise of a journalist, that criticism from a government is wonderful news for journalism. I think that's very important.
Thank you sir, for your speech. You made some wonderful points. I think the most important point was credibility. We cannot blame the government for that. That is our job, we need to look within and we will surely reflect on your remarks.
This year for Ramnath Goenka Award, we got 562 applications. This is the highest ever and this is very important to me to underline this number because this is the reply to those who say that good journalism is dying, that journalists have been bought over by the government.
Good journalism is not dying; it is getting better and bigger. It's just bad journalism makes lot more noise than it used to do five years ago. And that is why I think the remote control should get the R&G award for excellence in journalism."