"Dissent is at a discount,” said former vice president Hamid Ansari, while presiding over the International Press Institute’s event in New Delhi on Friday for the presentation of the Award for Excellence in Journalism, 2019.
"Decades back, Nani Palkhivala had written about the duty of dissent as a fundamental obligation of the Indian citizen. Today, dissent is often considered unpatriotic, anti-national and seditious," he said.
Speaking of the media, he asked, “Does it remain the watchdog of democracy or a mere lapdog of those who have obtained power to distort a liberal democracy into an illiberal one?”
He emphasised that time was running out for India, since the world was “recording in meticulous detail our fall from grace.” He also pointed out that India's ranking in the global press freedom index had slipped. “We once took pride in the principles of the Constitution, in rule of law, in the accountability of the executive, independence of the judiciary [and] in our dedication to the maintenance of our composite culture. Today, we question many of these in deed if not in word.”
The 2019 IPI India Award for Excellence in Journalism was given to NDTV for the channel’s expose, anchored by Nidhi Razdan, of the conspiracy to scuttle the probe into the Kathua rape and murder. According to IPI India, it was a strong expose of the “political hypocrisy across the political spectrum”.
The Award comprises a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh, a trophy and a citation.
At the event, N. Ravi spoke about how colonial laws—such as those concerning criminal defamation, sedition and invoking enmity between religious groups—were being invoked with ease against the media. He also spoke about a rising intolerance in the country by organised groups and even by the police.
He said that governments were invoking national security and public order to impose long restrictions on free speech and even the judiciary was complicit in allowing it.
Sorabjee stressed that the judiciary should uphold press freedom. "I've never had better happiness than when succeeding in upholding freedom of the press in court," he said.
Razdan said the award for her team came at a time when free and fair media faced one of its biggest challenges. She emphasised that the nation needs a media that seeks answers and justice.
The winner was chosen by a jury headed by former attorney general of India Soli Sorabjee.
Other jurists included N. Ravi, chairman of the India chapter of the IPI; Riyad Mathew, Chief Associate Editor and Director, THE WEEK, and Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to the prime minister. Also in attendance was Philip Mathew, IPI member and Editor of THE WEEK.
The Indian Chapter of the IPI is an active forum of editors, publishers and senior executives of newspapers, magazines and news agencies, all of whom are members of the International Press Institute.
IPI India had instituted the annual award in 2003 to recognise and honour the best journalistic work in India, either by an Indian media organisation or a journalist.
The first Award for Excellence in Journalism, 2003 was given to The Indian Express for its reporting of the Gujarat riots and its aftermath, while the 2018 award was won by THE WEEK’s senior special correspondent Namrata Biji Ahuja, for her story on the parallel government in Hebron, Nagaland.