Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name in this year’s Ramnath Goenka Awards for excellence in journalism created discomfort among journalists.
Refusal of the award by journalist Akshay Mukul was the first reaction. He said he cannot live with the idea of Modi and him in the same frame, smiling at the camera even as PM hands over the award to him. People who believed in the freedom of media and democracy lauded the move, others mocked.
During the event, Modi stressed that credibility for journalist mattered the most. He indirectly criticised journalists for sensationalising the news about his government.
The real hero of the night was Raj Kamal Jha, the Chief Editor of Indian Express who gave a befitting but pleasant reply to Modi.
In his vote of thanks, he mentioned the example of Indian Express‘s founder Ram Nath Goenka who sacked a reporter who was embraced by Chief Minister of a state. He said “that’s very very important especially in an age, and I turn 50 this year so I can say that when we have a generation of journalists who are growing up in an age of retweets and likes. And they do not know that criticism from a government is a badge of honour.”
His speech which went viral on social media hit on target. PM Modi, being there during the vote of thanks, was seriously listening. Activists and senior journalists appreciated Jha for his strong but humble words.
Jha, cousin of Sanjay Jha, national spokesperson for the Indian National Congress was born in Bihar. A B.Tech graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur,started his writing with campus magazine Alankar. He was the editor of this venture.
He did his M.A in print journalism from the University of Southern California after getting a full scholarship.
Jha started his journalistic career in 1992 with The Statesman in Kolkata. Then he worked in IndiaToday as Senior Associate Editor from 1994 to 96. Since 1996, he has been with Indian Express raising through posts from Deputy Editor to Chief Editor.
Under his leadership, Express reached a new height with its high-quality investigative reporting and provocative opinion section. Thrice it has won the Excellence in Journalism Award from the India chapter of the Vienna-based International Press Institute.
In 2o16, the paper has investigated The Panama Papers which revealed Indian names and companies which had offshore accounts in tax havens. The government was forced to set up a panel to probe the matter.
Jha is also a renowned novelist. Called as “novelist of the newsroom” his works are known for its simplicity and ability to evoke emotion by detailing. He oeuvre includes four novels, two short fictions and one prose. Noted works of his are The Blue Bedspread(2001),If You Are Afraid of Heights(2003), Fireproof(2006), and She Will Build him A City (2015).
Jha’s first work ,The Blue Bedspread won the 2000 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Eurasia region) and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (Wikipedia).His second If You Are Afraid of Heights, was a finalist for the Hutch-Crossword Book Award in 2003. Fourth and latest novel She Will Build him A City was published by Bloomsbury in India, Australia, UK and US. It was shortlisted for DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2016.
The vibrant editor taught at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley where he was a visiting professor.
A creative and dynamic being, his words gave much confidence to the voice of Independent media in India which is approaching its end.
(Some contents are taken from Wikipedia)