It is a pleasure and privilege for me to inaugurate this Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists. On this happy occasion, I very warmly greet all members of this creative organization.
I understand that the Kerala Union of Working Journalists is the only organisation representing journalists in Kerala. It is an organisation free from any ideological or political leanings, and one which works to resolve issues concerning the professional activities of journalists in Kerala.
The training programmes that the Kerala Union of Working Journalists began for newcomers in journalism led to the formation of the Kerala Press Academy, a pioneer in Indian journalism training institutions. The organisation established the first Press Club in the country at Ernakulam district, which was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi in December 1968. Kerala Union of Working Journalists has a democratic structure with an elected-body leading the organisation.
I compliment the Kerala Union of Working Journalists for having made a very important contribution towards promoting responsible and creative journalism over 50 years of its very purposeful existence.
Kerala has a vibrant and fiercely independent media. Journalists from the State have made a mark in media across the world. Malayalam newspapers have contributed immensely to the development of an independent and free press in India as a whole. Most of the old newspapers in Kerala were started as a part of the freedom movement. The fact that Kerala has three newspapers 'Deepika', 'Malayala Manorama' and 'Kerala Kaumudi' that have now been in publication for more than 100 years speaks for itself. Another daily, Mathrubhumi, will soon cross the 100 years mark.
Though small geographically, Kerala has 10 newspapers with a daily circulation of more than 100,000 each. Among these, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi have a readership of more than one crore.
In the broadcast segment, the first satellite channel in any regional language, Asianet, belongs to Kerala. Today, the State has more than 10 channels with daily news bulletins, including five 24 hours news channels.
These facts show that the media plays a very important role in the everyday life of the people of this state. They also point out that the journalists in the State function in a competitive environment where only the best would be able to do well. Kerala Union of Working Journalists therefore has a very important role to play in promoting not only professional competence, but also ethical conduct in the large fraternity of journalists that live in Kerala, addressing the problems they face in their work and promoting their well-being.
We are all proud of our democracy, which has survived and prospered despite serious challenges to it. We are a country with numerous religions, ethnicities, languages and viewpoints. Freedom for multiple, often opposing, viewpoints to co-exist is one of the defining characteristics of Indian society and Indian polity. An independent and responsible media is a pre-requisite for sustaining such a society and polity.
We are proud that the freedom of expression is a Constitutional guarantee in India. The media in our country is not just a reliable barometer of public opinion; it is also the conscience-keeper of our nation.
Today, our country is going through some difficult times. The unfortunate incidents of the past few months have brought out worrying fault-lines in our society. The tragic developments in Assam and their reverberations in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and other places have shown that we cannot and we should not afford to take social peace and harmony for granted. We need to be constantly vigilant and work continuously towards promoting greater communal harmony and inter-group and inter-community dialogue and understanding.
The media has a very important role to play in this task. Its reporting and opinions should be fair, objective and balanced. The desire to be sensational should be avoided, even though it is very tempting, sometimes. Restraint should be exercised so that nothing that divides our society and country is written, broadcast or telecast. On the other hand a conscious effort should be made to build bridges between communities and regions. These are no more than the abiding values that constitute responsible journalism and which the Kerala Union of Working Journalists has been promoting.
The media in Kerala has both reflected the aspirations of the people and has also moulded public opinion. It has often broken new ground. Long before the concept of development journalism evolved elsewhere in the country, the pages of the Malayalam newspapers were replete with the news of development activities at all levels, including the activities of Panchayats. I am told that recently there was a successful reality show by a Malayalam TV channel in which different Panchayats showcased the development projects in their respective areas! It is indeed difficult to imagine such a show anywhere else in India.
Kerala has produced great media professionals like K. Sukumar, Kesari Balakrishana Pillai, Mammen Mapila, and K.P. Kesava Menon; and cartoonists like Sankar and Abu Abraham. I consider myself greatly privileged to have known many such people in my public life. I sincerely hope that many more journalists from Kerala would follow in the footprints of these distinguished men and women who make the journalist profession feel indeed very proud.
Let me, therefore, conclude by wishing the Kerala Union of Working Journalists and the journalistic fraternity in Kerala all the very best for the future. May God bless your path.
Thank you. Jai Hind.