If TV was a challenge to traditional journalism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday, social media posed a challenge as never before. Delivering his keynote address after giving away the 2015 Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards here, he said that “in the past, people of some learning came to journalism whereas now even an illiterate villager can take a photograph on Twitter and that becomes news”.
In such a situation, he said, credibility becomes the first casualty. In their rush to make news, he said, journalists are over-interpreting to the detriment of the country. In earlier days, a road accident would be reported as just that whereas today the headline might read “BMW kills Dalit”. “My dear sir,” the PM said, “the driver of the car didn’t know that the victim was a Dalit.”
Recalling the signal role of Indian Express founder Ramnath Goenka during the days of the freedom struggle and then in fighting the Emergency, the PM congratulated the winners of the awards for following in the footsteps of such an illustrious journalist. He exhorted journalists to make their voices heard not just in India but also across the world. “Why should people say I heard this on BBC or CNN or Al Jazeera? We should have Indian media organisations that have the same heft.”
In a sly dig at the role of the media, Modi said of all the post-independence politicians, he owed the biggest debt of gratitude to the media. “Had it not been for the media, who would have even known of my existence?”
Recalling the signal role played by media during the independence struggle — many of the leaders of the movement themselves made wholesome use of the printed word — Modi cautioned against intense competition among media outlets potentially damaging the unity and cohesion of the diverse country.
“I don’t mind criticism of the government,” Modi said, probably in response to the view that the government preferred sycophants.
Drawing from the PM’s address, Indian Express chief editor Rajkamal Jha said that in these days when retweets and likes were considered badges of honour, journalists should have a disclaimer — like the smoking warning on TV screens — “Criticism by government is a good thing.”
With the all-pervasiveness of today’s multifaceted media, people are saddled with an abundance of news and views and this has made retaining their credibility an even more daunting challenge, Modi said. He underlined that that the technology-enabled explosive growth of the media sector, now complemented by the social media, had played a pivotal role in empowering the ordinary Indian.
“Today you have different sources of information. People these days go through a newspaper not to read the news but only to check authenticity of the information they already have,” he said.
Stressing that the media have helped strengthen the Indian democracy and giving it the right direction, he said even difficult experiences in the past — like the Emergency — had a wholesome role in the maturing of democracy. “The lesson from Emergency is that nobody would ever try to impose it again… It is important to keep reminding ourselves of the (brief suspension of democracy) again and again.”
The Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards was instituted by the Ramnath Goenka Foundation in 2005 to celebrate the legacy of the founder of The Indian Express Group. Its categories cover investigative, political and sports journalism, non-fiction writing, feature writing, sports and entertainment, commentary and work done in regional languages.