It was one of those rare occasions when journalists made headlines, for all the right reasons, of course. The first Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards, held in the Capital on Wednesday, honoured the men and women who stood for ‘good journalism: excellence and enterprise, courage and fairness.’
And it was also one of those few occasions, which proved – as Shekhar Gupta, the host of the occasion, said – “journalist have a lot of friends too”, looking at the mammoth gathering, which included several Cabinet ministers, politicians, industrialists, veteran journalists and dignitaries of all hues.
Touted as India’s reply to Pulitzer Awards and instituted by Indian Express, the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards was almost dominated by NDTV, whose reporters received five awards in the broadcast journalism category, led by Barkha Dutt who won the Ramnath Goenka Journalist of the Year (Broadcast) Award. She won the award for her reports from Nagapattinam that captured the trauma and tragedy of lives torn apart by the Tsunami.
The Journalist of the Year (Print) Award was shared by Special Correspondent, Indian Express, Verghese K George, for his Bihar flood scam exposure, and Praveen Swamy of Frontline for his extensive reports on terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
In the Hindi broadcast category, Punya Prasun Bajpai, Deputy Editor, Aaj Tak, won the award for his story on an investigative report on tribals in Vidharba, who were falsely booked under TADA for their alleged Naxalite links.
The Business and Economic Journalist Award (Print) went to Vikas Dhoot for his series of stories on how the Employees Provident Fund Organisation reforms were scuttled and how politics hijacked the PF. Interestingly, Dhoot, who now works with the Indian Express, had got the CNN Young Journalist Award, 2004 for the same story.
The Broadcast Award for the same category went to Menaka Doshi of CNBC TV18 for her interview with Mukesh Ambani, which made the rift in the Ambani family public.
The Best Foreign Correspondent Award for covering India in Print category was conferred to New York Times journo in India, Somini Sengupta.
In Regional Award category in Print for Jammu and Kashmir went to Mir Ehsan of the Indian Express for his exposure of the fake surrenders case in the Valley. The Award in the same discipline for the Broadcast Journalist category went to Vikram Choudhary of NDTV 24x7 for his report on how women had been forced to take up the gun to protect themselves and join village defense committees.
The Best North East, Print journalist award was conferred on Ratna Bharali Talukdar, a freelance journalist, for her report chronicling the lives and struggles of coal mine workers in Upper Assam. In the same discipline, Sutapa Deb of NDTV 24x7 won the award in the Broadcast category for her story on the Manipur conflict.
Sopan Pandharipande of Lokmat won the award in the Regional Award-Regional, Print category for his series of investigative reports that exposed the Mahila Nagari Sahakari Bank Scam.
For Environmental Reporting (Print) Ramesh Menon clinched the award for his detailed report on how the overuse of pesticides is turning Punjab into a poison field. In the same discipline of Environmental Reporting (Broadcast) Swati Thyagarajan of NDTV 24x7 won the award for her report on a Karnataka village, which is trying to keep alive a tradition and storks who have made it their home.
In the category of Uncovering India Invisible, Print, another freelance journalist, C Vanaja, won the award for her journey into the deep forests of the Dhandakaranya to report on the parallel government run by the Naxalites. In the broadcast category, Shikha Trivedy of NDTV 24x7 won the award for her post-Godhra coverage of Gujarat.
Presenting the awards, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “I hope the debate within media, about trends in media, has helped strengthen the hands of journalists who are proud of their professionalism. I am sure the Ramnath Goenka Awards will further encourage the growth of a professional approach to journalism.”
Offering his take on objectivity in media, Singh said, “I submit to you that a ‘journalism of courage’ also implies taking sides. Objectivity does not imply neutrality. It implies respect for truth and facts, and a willingness to take positions, howsoever contrarian or contentious.”
Reminding journalists of their duty in nation building, Singh said, “You have a social responsibility, as an institution and a pillar of our democracy, to facilitate a consensus. You have a responsibility to uphold and articulate liberal values and empower liberalism. You can, of course, purvey the views of those who take extreme positions. But you owe it to your audience, and our nation, to place those views in their context, in a perspective.”
Speaking to exchange4media, Barkha Dutt said, “This award means a lot to me because it comes from a paper which I highly respect, which is considered the bible in journalism.”
To Verghese K George, it was a different feeling to be on the other side of the story, when he was being interviewed. “It gives a sense of satisfaction when your story gets recognition,” he stated modestly.
Declaring that for the next year awards, nominations could be sent till December this year, Shekhar Gupta, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Indian Express group, said, “From next year, John Hopkins University, USA will be financing an award for the HIV and AIDS awareness category.” Some other new categories like Non-fiction Book, Sports Journalism, Film and Television Journalism, and Political Journalism will be added to the already existing categories.