This Article is From Sep 06, 2019

"Citizen Journalism Under Threat": Magsaysay Winner Ravish - Highlights

Ravish Kumar has often faced threats for "calling the highest officials to account or criticizing media and the state of public discourse in the country".

Ravish Kumar won the award for "harnessing journalism to give voice to the voiceless".

NDTV's Ravish Kumar, who won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award 2019, delivered a speech on "The Power of Citizen's journalism to Advance Democracy", in the Philippines.

Ravish Kumar won the award for "harnessing journalism to give voice to the voiceless" and his "unfaltering commitment to a professional, ethical journalism of the highest standards". He is among the five recipients of the 2019 Magsaysay award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel, which recognises the "greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia".

Ravish Kumar will receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award at a ceremony in Manila on September 9, 2019.

Here are the highlights of Ravish Kumar's public lecture in Manila, the Philippines:

  • India has conquered the moon. In this very proud moment, I am looking at the moon and at the ground beneath my feet simultaneously. My streets have craters and potholes which outnumber the moon.
  • Across the world, democracies on fire in broad daylight are craving the coolness of the moon. But this fire can only by doused with information that is pure and with courage, not by mere rhetoric. The more pure our information, the deeper the trust within our citizenry.
  • Two months ago, I was working on my daily broadcast in my corner office when I received a call on my cell phone. The caller ID flashed an unknown international number from the Philippines. I was certain it was a troll calling. For some reason, a lot of my troll calling traffic comes from the Philippines. If they are all indeed living in Philippines then I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome them. I am here now.
  • I have received thousands of calls from trolls in my life but never from a woman. I quickly shut off the speaker and put the phone against my ear. In sophisticated English, the woman informed me that I won the Ramon Magsaysay Award, 2019.
  • Flash forward to when I'm here with you. I am not here alone. I have brought the entire world of Hindi journalism practised by Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and Peer Munis Mohammad.
  • Coming to the topic of the day. We are living in testing times, as journalists and as common citizens. Our citizenship itself is on trial right now and make no mistake about it, we need to fight back. We need to rethink our duties and responsibilities as citizens.
  • I believe that in today's times when the attack on our citizenship is all-encompassing and the state's surveillance apparatus is more overbearing than ever, the individuals or groups who are able to withstand this onslaught and emerge stronger from it, will be the ones who lay the foundation for a better citizenry and for that matter, maybe even better governments in the future.
  • Our world is filled with such determined citizens already who in spite of pervasive hatred and a manufactured information deficit, have chosen to fight back and bloom like the cactus flower does in the midst of a barren hopeless desert.
  • Wherever the fertile plains of democracy are being subverted into deserts, the exercise of citizenship and the fight for the claim over - and right to - information have become perilous, but not impossible.
  • Citizenship effectively requires a free flow of verifiable information. The state today has established full control over the media and the corporations. The implication of this control over the media and in turn your information flow is that it limits and narrows the scope of your citizenship.
  • News channel debates take place within a vocabulary of exclusionary nationalism wherein they seek to replace the collective history and memory of the nation with that of the ruling party's in their viewers' minds
  • There are only two types of people in this news universe narrative: the anti-nationals and us. It's the classic "us" and "them" technique. They tell us that the problem with Anti-nationals is that they ask questions, disagree, and dissent.
  • Disagreement is the aatma [spirit, soul, or essence] of democracy and citizenship. The democratic aatma is under relentless attack every day. When citizenship is under threat or when its very meaning has been altered, then what happens to the nature of a citizen's journalism?
  • There are many countries in the world where this regime, which co-opts the judiciary too, has gained legitimacy amongst people. And yet, when we see what's happening in Hong Kong and in Kashmir, you realise that people are still out there fighting for their citizenship.
  • The citizens of Hong Kong have challenged the government's effort to render citizenship hollow by refashioning objects of control into devices of liberation.  The citizens of Hong Kong were willing and able to extricate themselves from the authoritarian network of information. This tells us that the state has not yet defeated citizenship.
  • Kashmir is another story. An information and communication blackout imposed for several weeks. More than 10 million people cut off from any information trade whatsoever. There was an internet shutdown. Mobiles were rendered useless.
  • It is an unfortunate coincidence that most of India's neighbours are also its neighbours on the press freedom index. India, Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar - all fall within 50 ranks of each other, right at the bottom of the international press freedom index released by reporters without borders.
  • A few days ago, going through my Twitter feed, I encountered a notification issued by the Pakistani electronic media regulatory authority which gave clear directions to the country's news channels on reporting the situation in Kashmir.
  • It was specific to the extent of recommending the use of only black and white colours on TV channel logos on the15th, which happens to be India's Independence Day.
  • I wonder how Pakistani news channels managed to work on the 15th with such a limited colour spectrum, since closer home in India, I cannot imagine Indian TV channels to run their logos and graphics in less than 10 colours and shapes at any given point in the day.
  • When mainstream journalism can neither support its own rights nor the sheer idea of journalism, citizen journalists and citizen journalism both are under a constant (existential) threat. The threat here is not merely on the practical implications of reportage, viewership or financial sustenance, but also on the atmosphere which should not enable the growth and nurture of such hypocrisy and bankruptcy.
  • In the early days of social media when people began asking hard questions online, the old school media houses had turned against social media and critiqued it. Blogs and websites were blocked inside newsrooms.
  • Even today, several newsrooms do not allow reporters to express their personal opinion.
  • Today if a Kashmiri girl decided to write a blog on the lines of Baghdad burning, our mainstream media would label her as anti-national. The media today is increasingly delegitimising the space of citizen journalism because it is not interested or invested in journalism.
  • When the media turns against the citizen, then it's time for the citizens to take on the role of the media. She has to do so knowing that the chances of success are slim in these times of state brutality and surveillance.
  • The mainstream media seeks profit maximisation above everything else and this singular motive compels it to serve as a PR agent of the state.
  • India's mainstream media is working night and day to convert our citizens into "post-illiterates". It has given up on trying to convert superstitious beings into rational thinking beings.
  •  Indian citizens possess a great passion for democracy, but every night news channels arrive to trample over that passion. While evening in India may arrive with the setting of the sun, it is the reportage from news media that spreads the darkness of night.
  • Every day, there are vociferous demonstrations against the government, but the media has a screening process wherein it decides to keep these protests out of their bulletin. There is no reportage of these protests, since for the media they are a futile activity. No democracy can be a democracy without public demonstrations.
  • The definition of citizenship trumpeted by the media doesn't allow for the raising of slogans against the state. This is why citizens are attempting to preserve that essential part of themselves by creating videos for their WhatsApp groups. They begin to upload their videos on YouTube. Agitators begin to practice citizen journalism. By uploading their videos on YouTube, agitators have become citizen journalists.
  • When the state and media unite to control citizens, is it possible for a citizen to be able to act as a journalist? To be a citizen and exercise the associated rights, it requires a system that has to be provided for by the same democracy that the citizen belongs to.
  • Trolls publicised my number in an attempt to send abuse my way. The abuse arrived, as did threats. They continue to. But so did the people, bringing with them their stories and news from their regions.
  • While common people were being erased from news channels and a single political agenda was being shoved down their throats, some people didn't stop trying to break free of this nexus.
  • Prime Time has become increasingly reliant on people's WhatsApp messages for its composition/creation. This was our subversion of the WhatsApp campaign launched by those in power against me. On the one hand, party "IT cells" spread communal hate and xenophobia by bombarding broadcast lists and groups with millions of messages, and on the other hand real news was travelling to me through the same medium.
  • My newsroom has shifted from NDTV's newsroom to being among the people. There is still hope for India's democracy because neither have people given up on their expectations from the government, nor have they stopped posing questions to the government.
  • While the mainstream media parroted the falsehoods that Indian universities were rising in global rankings, students from countless colleges sent me their classroom and staff strengths.
  • Media and social media contribute to the process of isolating, silencing, and intimidating citizens by placing them in the midst of mobs, virtual and real. The perception of risk rises - and the experience of fear paralyses. 
  •  Today's citizens are under immense pressure. The challenge before them is to find out how to fight against this media, which runs its business in their name.
  • We are at that moment in time when people will have to push against the barricade of the media if they want to reach the government. Otherwise their voice will continue to haunt WhatsApp inboxes.
  • The government is also responsible for creating an atmosphere where the state can be questioned. You can evaluate a government only when the media is independent and free during its time.
  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Pir Muhammad Yunus were all citizen journalists.
  • No nation could exist without news. The nation as a community came about because the stories of those we thought our own stoked our imagination. Every nation is different.
  • My criticism of the mainstream media, and in particular of news channels, is intended for the sole purpose of my great country. India's newspapers and news channels incite and provoke conflict between communities.
  • We are in urgent need of Citizen Journalists during today's times but even more than that we need the Citizen Democractic.
  • I would like to thank the millions of viewers who watch NDTV. I am thinking about all my colleagues at NDTV. I am thinking about Dr Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy. My journalism is in Hindi but I have received love across all languages in India - Marathi, Gujrati, Malayalam, Bangla - I belong to everyone.