The government cannot certify the quality of journalism, only people can

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Sep 30, 2022 | 07:55 IST

The government cannot certify the quality of journalism, only people can

Journalism is a service rendered by the media to the people, a pillar of democracy; it cannot be judged by the executive, which is also responsible to the people. Thus, any government award for excellence in journalism is inappropriate.

In the recent past, a state government announced awards it would give to journalists for rural reporting. He called on newspapers to nominate journalists they believe deserved the award and send recommendations signed by the respective editors to be considered for an award in the category.

Irrespective of the nature of the award, which may be recognition, certification or cash prize, the act of a government awarding prizes for journalism, based on a criterion of merit to be decided by a government or a jury chosen by the government, is inappropriate in many ways, with all due respect to the intentions of the government.

First, do governments have the locus standi to judge journalistic excellence?

The executive is one of the pillars of democracy and the media is another pillar. Both derive their legitimacy and mandate from the people. There is another reality of democracy. While the media help inform people about the workings of the government and provide information, they also judge whether the service rendered by the government is fair and proper. And it does so because it is accountable to the people and the government is the representative of the people.

Take, for example, stories of rural development. If we take Goa as an example, the stories of despair and destruction reported by responsible media emanate from the villages.

For example, the destruction of all cashew trees to build a link road to Mopa airport, the farmers of Ponda taluka rebuilding broken bunds to prevent salt water from coming into their fields with their own funds – but without being compensated, the destruction of fields in Benaulim due to the western bypass not being built on stilts, with farmers awaiting compensation for crop loss due to flooding, for two years and more. Not every story is a story or a statistic. They are human stories with suffering souls.

Now let us ask ourselves: will such stories be deemed “meritorious” in the eyes of any government and we are not, I repeat not, talking about parties here? And if these stories, centering on the lives of ordinary Goans and their struggles, are not examples of rural journalism, do government awards have the merit to be the true judge of quality journalism that holds the truth to the power ?

When is a journalist proud? When people praise and the government criticizes, not the other way around

Here, the memory goes back to the groundbreaking speech delivered by Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Raj Kamal Jha in 2016. During the closing speech of the prestigious Ramnath Goenka Prizes awarded annually and known as the Pulitzer Prize for Indian Journalism, he said: in the presence of the Prime Minister:

“You have said wonderful things about journalists which makes us a bit nervous. You may not find him on Wikipedia but Shri Ramnath Goenka and that is a fact and I can say that as editor of the Indian Express, he fired a reporter when he overheard a state CM saying to him, ‘Aapka reporter bahot accha kaam kar raha hai’ (Your reporter is doing a very good job)

“It’s very, very important, especially at this age, and I’m turning 50 this year and I can say that when we have a generation of journalists growing up in the era of ‘retweets’ and ‘likes’ ‘, they don’t know that criticizing a government is a badge of honor.

“So just like what they do in the smoking scenes in the movies, I think we should have a tape in our minds when we hear a journalist’s praise, that a government’s criticism is wonderful news for journalism. I think that’s very important.

It is in this context and drawing inspiration from Jha’s speech that it can be said that journalists who win government awards will not obtain the real accolades and respect that those who are judged and rewarded by their peers and the people will get. We need to both do some soul-searching and ask ourselves: Can a journalist highly rewarded by the government walk into a credible and responsible media house without any scrutiny or questioning? Let’s think.

At the same time, if the journalist is a recipient of one of the Ramnath Goenka Excellence Awards in different areas of journalism, that brings him into a very sacred space. It gives the journalist prestige and pedigree. Such a journalist will always find the doors of all credible media open to him.

In prime time in India, we have a daily example of a larger-than-life right-wing presenter, editor and owner who is the supposed blue-eyed samrat (king) of ‘journalism’ for the establishment, so that he is praised and rewarded by the government, does he have the stamp of credibility and fairness?

People are our only prize givers. They are the highest. And we’re on trial at the highest

Responsible media are accountable to the people they serve. And they are tested every morning. And test results arrive soon after they are released in the form of letters, messages, phone calls and emails. And it’s not always praise. There are comments and views on stories, phrases, titles and angles taken, signifying a degree of involvement far more intense and meaningful than the certificate of a government award.

And those who judge us are those who read the newspaper. And then there are those who may not be reading but hearing stories from people about issues raised by responsible newspapers. We have a photo of a padekar in one of the farms in the village of Curtorim, in this report. When a newspaper recounts his life, his struggles and the lack of support for the system, for the maintenance of an art and a tradition that is disappearing, he is moved and sees hope.

Without wishing to belittle any government initiative taken seriously and with respect for constitutional positions, a simple heartfelt “thank you” from a coconut pucker (when all of Goa should be thanking him for what he does) is a stronger certificate and bigger. , a greater badge of honor than all government awards and honors.

Ultimately, it all comes down to credibility. As editor Raj Kamal Jha said, “I think the most important point was credibility. We cannot blame the government for this. This is our job, we have to look within.

And credibility is not a reward. It’s a process, it’s a journey and a destination. And when you do public service like journalism, people measure your credibility.

While the people map the credibility of the press, the press in turn is on the sidelines, mapping the credibility of governance. This is why awards given by media institutions to Central and State governments are respected and coveted by all governments who consider it a prestige to be judged by the media and emerge victorious.

Above all, journalism will always be a mission, with a simple tool, the pen, which ultimately produces what is tested every morning, the paper, bringing the truth to your doorstep.

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