- The prize, considered the Nobel of the East, was given to Kumar for “harnessing journalism to give voice to the voiceless” and his “unfaltering commitment to professional, ethical journalism of the highest standard”.
- Kumar has coined the term “Godi media” (media which sits in the government’s lap).
It is testimony to the toxic times we live in that Ravish Kumar, one of India’s foremost journalists, thought that one of the many outsourced trolls belonging to the troll farm of the BJP’s infamous IT cell was calling to abuse him from the Philippines.
Happily Kumar, who has worked for NDTV (a Indian TV news channel), for 25 years was told on the phone that he had won the Ramon Magsaysay award 2019.
The prize, considered the Nobel of the East, was given to Kumar for “harnessing journalism to give voice to the voiceless” and his “unfaltering commitment to professional, ethical journalism of the highest standard”. For once a citation actually lives up to the man it honoured.
The citation describes Kumar as a “sober, incisive and well-informed anchor”. Ravish Kumar embodies the NDTV spirit of journalism that you don't need to shout to be heard.
Kumar’s richly deserved win comes after he has stood undaunted in the face of foul abuse, video death threats and even rape threats to his family – all for doing his job.
Kumar has coined the term “Godi media” (media which sits in the government’s lap). My readers of this column will know them as “panna pramukhs”, compromised journalists, who cheerlead for the government and relentlessly question the Opposition.
The past five years have been terrible for the free Press across the world. Strongmen leaders compete to take away the meta-respectability of a free Press, which exists as the fourth pillar in a democracy.
From the pejorative lugenpresse (lying press), which first gained currency in Nazi Germany, to the US President Donald Trump’s “fake news” and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “news traders”, a concerted effort is on to discredit the media.
While the US Press, safeguarded by the freedom of the First Amendment, has fought back, most of the Indian Press has simply caved in.
NDTV has stood alone and fought against a concerted attempt to drive it out of business. The government has unleashed all the agencies such as Income Tax Department and Central Bureau of Investigation against it. The BJP and its ministers have boycotted the channel, and yet it has stood by journalists such as Ravish Kumar.
Ethics of journalism
Suparna Singh, CEO of NDTV, who has ensured a turnaround and profit for the channel for the past five quarters, says on Ravish winning the award: “Ravish’s journalism is the best combination of old school determination and research and new school use of social media alerts and information. NDTV couldn’t be prouder of what he exemplifies. The award also reiterates what we stand by and stand for: real news matters – we don’t peddle hate for profit”.
Singh is right. Dr Prannoy Roy and co-founder of NDTV Radhika Roy have always stood by institutional Press values and an absolute respect for journalistic values. They have remained undaunted despite facing an onslaught of harassment.
Kumar has always told stories of the marginalised and ensured that they get a voice rather than chasing self-important politicians for “bytes”.
One memorable show had him using silent actors to mime “Godi media” and what the rulers want to listen to. He used a Hindi film song “Bago Mein Bahar Hai” as a metaphor for the only thing rulers like to hear.
Once it was a black screen to protest against the role of the media in tarring other Indians as “anti-national”.
Such imaginative television, which tells a real story has won Ravish countless fans. Yet, these days being a real journalist, speaking truth to power gets you tagged as an “anti-national” and a “sickular” journalist. You are called a “presstitute” and abused on troll propaganda sites with no links to journalism.
Ravish Kumar and NDTV don’t have gladiatorial shouting matches, which monetise hate by constantly peddling a communal agenda, which have become a norm in news channels.
For me, Kumar is a rock star of my profession telling real stories and comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in the words of Finley Peter Dunne.
The Magasaysay award to Kumar is a benediction to a tiny beleaguered group of journalists still driven by a passion for a profession. To my colleague Ravish Kumar you give us hope.
Full disclosure I am a columnist for NDTV.com.