Talking truth to the powerful

Ravish Kumar and Eugene Robinson mark a glittering session at Talk Journalism 2019.

Jaipur, 21 September, 2019 – The evening session on day two of Talk Journalism 2019 saw a journalist getting a hero’s welcome from the audience. After all, it was the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner and NDTV India’s Managing Editor Ravish Kumar addressing the audience in the ballroom on “Speaking Truth to Power”. The session was moderated by Executive Editor of Hindustan Times, Sachin Kalbag while The Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize Awardee Eugene Robinson was the other speaker on the stage.

Speaking on the importance of the topic, Ravish highlighted that society has been radicalized to an extent that the only system is the government itself. “Because of all this, the public has completely changed. I don’t know what is happening in Eugene’s part of the world”. Robinson, on his part, was in affirmation with the way Ravish described and called it a “good description of your part of the world”. He said “There are a lot of things that the President of USA Donald Trump doesn’t know about. But one thing he knows very well is the media and how to manipulate it. Most of the times, Trump takes a u-turn from his statements. That’s why journalists in the USA make voice recordings of his statements. Because as journalists, we have an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) about facts. So what do you do when the situation is you are dealing with someone who doesn’t recognize truth and facts”. Eugene also added that the biggest challenge would be that post-Trump era, the citizens will have a very difficult time in limping back to normalcy. 

He went on to talk about how President Trump used to block people from his Twitter account and how the First Amendment Act, which gave the USA the freedom of expression shot it down.”The journalists in America are constantly striving to do stories which bring out the flaws in the system. But Trump’s style of functioning through his official social media accounts has left the people in a tizzy and are confused as to which news is real or fake”. 

Ravish added to this case by talking on similar lines. He flatly said that the questions which need to be asked in relation to the RTI Act in India hasn’t been asked. “In affirmation with Eugene’s response, he added that the President holds the public office because of which he is accountable to the public who questions him on social media. Before holding office, the account was at a personal level. But now, him being the President, he can’t block people from his account”. Ravish went on to give an example about how SSC candidates had asked the Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh, about their exam results of 2017 following which they were instantly blocked from his Twitter account. He gave another instance of an incident during Nitish Kumar’s tenure as the Bihar Chief Minister, where anyone who used to complain against him was blocked from his Twitter account.

Speaking more on fluctuating powers of the press, Ravish quipped that the Right to Information Act is diluted has eroded a major bank of stories from Hindi newspapers point of view. “If you see in Hindi newspapers, there isn’t any news which hasn’t been dug in from the bottom. RTI, which was once a powerful act, has been diluted which has shaken the structure of media reporting and destroyed the bank of reporters in newspapers, especially vernacular. The reporting system has been collapsed and four-five monkeys who appear on television have replaced them. If you see the choice of their language, the way they read the news, it is awful and violent”. He continued, “The tone and syntax used in the language of news channels have high levels of provoking anger, hurt and keeping people fearful. Post-2014, different kinds of stories have come in, leaving no space for actual news stories”.  He also said that the language used in TV news channels doesn’t give a sense of a democratic nation and the great ruling party boycotts my show but ‘India is a great democracy and mera desh phir bhi mahaan hai’ (my country is still great)”.

When the talk came about fake news and verifying information, Ravish lamented about the spread of fake news in the world. “Fake news has spread all over the society due to Whatsapp forwards, especially when it comes to historical facts. They are being twisted and no one is having a look at it”. Eugene concluded his talk by lamenting about the crisis of credibility existing from both authority powers and its followers while Ravish ended on a philosophical note by advising females not to be with those males who hate a particular religion as he can never be a good lover, husband or father. “Mohabbat bohot zaroori hai, mitti se bhi aur insann se bhi (Love is very necessary, with the land and with the human being”. 

Text: Niharika Raina | Copy Edit: Niharika Raina | Photo: Niharika Raina | Photo Desk: Sagar Samuel | Editorial Coordination: Rupali Soni & Niharika Raina