Ravish Kumar Wins Ramon Magsaysay: A Silver Lining For Rural Journalists in India
NDTVs Ravish Kumar is the new recipient for the prestigious 61st Ramon Magsaysay Award, 2019 for harnessing journalism to give voice to voiceless. A widely acclaimed and celebrated TV journalist in India, Ravish is known for his popular news show Ravish Ki Report and Prime Time with Ravish Kumar on NDTV India. Informally known as Nobel of Asia, the premier award is named after Ramon Magsaysay, the third President of Republic of Philippines. Other than Ravish, Angkhana Neelapaijit from Thailand, Myanmar-based journalist Ko Swe Win, Kim Jong-Ki from South Korea and Raymundo Pujante Cayabyab from the Philippines were also bestowed with the same honor.
The award citation quotes, In a media environment threatened by an interventionist state, toxic with jingoist partisans, trolls and purveyors of fake news, and where the competition for market ratings has put the premium on media personalities, tabloidisation, and audience-pandering sensationalism, Ravish has been most vocal in insisting that the professional values of sober, balanced, fact-based reporting be upheld in practice.
This laurel for an Indian has come at a time when Indias freedom of press index has dropped two places to 140th globally, while many journalists are being targeted by the authorities sitting in power. Sometimes, the perpetrators are corrupt powerful muscleman in a smaller city, a sand mafia, liquor mafia, police, politicians or the government of the day. Citing the physical violence against the journalists in India, the International watchdog for freedom of press, Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders, RSF) highlights the plight of journalists working in Non-English media outlets in rural areas.
Violence/Intimidation against journalists
On 28th July, Pradeep Mandal, a Bihar-based local reporter of a Hindi daily Dainik Jagran, was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorcycle. Speculations were rife that he was attacked in connection of a news story he wrote about two traffickers indulged in unlawful activities of liquor trafficking. (It is to be noted that liquor in Bihar was banned by the Nitish Kumars government after implementing the Directive Principles of State Policy.) The assailants were later identified and Madhubani police issued a warrant against them, but no arrest could be made so far. In March 2018, two Dainik Bhaskar journalists, Naveen Nishchal and Vijay Singh were mowed down by an SUV in Bhojpur district over an investigative report against a village leader.
Rajen Deka, a reporter for Dainik Asom, one of Assams leading dailies, was ambushed and attacked with sharp weapons while returning home in Nalbari district on the evening of 25th April. The assailants were allegedly linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. He survived with injuries to the head, chest and arm.
Two more journalists were intimidated and attacked after this incident. News18 TV reporter Upasana Barua Goswami was the intimidated by four miscreants in a restaurant in Tinsukia district, in Assam. Her assailants were later arrested.
Rajiv Borah, a journalist who owns E-media and works for the regional TV channel DY365, was also attacked and beaten by five miscreants in Jorhat (Assam), a city 180 km southwest of Tinsukia. Only one assailant was arrested in this case.
It is evident that North-Eastern India has become one of the most unsafe places for local journalists. It is to be noted that in the year 2017, two Tripura-based journalists, Sudip Datta, and Santanu Bhowmik were killed.
Revathi Pogadadanda, a program host with Mojo TV was arrested by Hyderabad police at her home on the morning of 12th July. She captured her arrest in a series of tweets: Cops at my doorstep! They want to arrest me without a warrant. They tell me am creating a law and order problem!
The police arrested her after a complaint raised by one of the participants in a discussion program about a court order allowing women entry in the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The guest accused Revathi of insulting him when she defended womens rights.
The Silver Linings
The new Ramon Magsaysay awardee journalist is known for his fearless views against the establishment. After the cold-blooded murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, he spoke vociferously at an event organized at Press Club of India and condemned the killing of the journalist. Now when he is honored with such a prestigious award, many hapless rural journalists would be now hoping to see the silver lining in the clouds.
The award citation says, His moral courage in standing up for truth, integrity, and independence; and his principled belief that it is in giving full and respectful voice to the voiceless, in speaking truth bravely yet soberly to power, that journalism fulfills its noblest aims to advance democracy.
Since Ravish Kumar is admired and idolized by many journalists, especially tier-2 cities Hindi journalists, there will be a sense of hope among them that they can also get recognized for their work one day. If not recognized, then this occasion might compel the government of the day to ensure a safe and protective environment for the stringers filing a report in the remotest area of Bihar, Assam, Tripura or Hyderabad.
(Opinion Expressed by the author is personal.)