Ranjona Banerji: Time to honour those journalists who pursue truth, taking risks

14 Dec,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year is a fine salute to all the journalists who risk themselves, their families and their lives to do their jobs. In fact, I cannot put it better than Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal on why Time chose these journalists as the magazine’s much-coveted ‘Person of the Year”:

“For taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and for speaking out, the Guardians—Jamal Khashoggi, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Maria Ressa and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md.—are Time’s Person of the Year.”


Felsenthal’s words are direct and also deeply insightful, when he talks about the threats to democracy today, visible across the world:

“It has long been the first move in the authoritarian playbook: controlling the flow of information and debate that is freedom’s lifeblood. And in 2018, the playbook worked. Today, democracy around the world faces its biggest crisis in decades, its foundations undermined by invective from on high and toxins from below, by new technologies that power ancient impulses, by a poisonous cocktail of strongmen and weakening institutions. From Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley, manipulation and abuse of truth is the common thread in so many of this year’s major headlines, an insidious and growing threat to freedom.”

In case people are sceptical about the threats faced by journalists across the world, here is the latest report from the Committee to Protect Journalists:


In India, journalists who report on mining mafias are often targets and because they are local journalists without celebrity status, their deaths go unreported and their lives unsung. This negligence highlights once more India’s very strong urban versus rural bias in the media as well our English versus regional language and Delhi versus the rest problems.

It is worth noting therefore that one of the “Guardians” chosen by Time Magazine is the Capital Gazette, the Annapolis, Maryland local newspaper where a gunman walked into the newsroom, shot several and killed five, earlier this year. The remaining staff brought out a paper the next day. The circulation of the Gazette is about 30,000 copies a day. The paper’s attitude underlines the hard work and dedication put out by all journalists everywhere. Not just the famous, glamourous personalities seen on TV every night. And the Time award celebrates that professionalism.

The murder of Washington Post columnist Ajmal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul has, says Time’s Felsenthal, “prompted a global reassessment of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince”. Khashoggi became more famous in death than he was in life, but he is now a strong symbol of how far authoritarian regimes will go to stop those who question or expose them.

And ultimately, that is the mandate of all journalists. To take on those in power. And to tell the story of everywoman and everyman. Not just the rich and famous and powerful but all of us.

Kudos to Time for looking inwards and honouring those among our vocation who go above and beyond and sometimes pay the most terrible price.


Meanwhile, in India, it is worth noting that the Editors Guild has finally decided to suspend MJ Akbar and Tarun Tejpal from membership in light of the sexual harassment and rape charges against Akbar and an ongoing court case regarding Tejpal. This has only happened after the #MeToo movement gained traction in India. A formal response has been sought from Gautam Adhikari, after charges made against him.


I am chary of congratulating anyone because the few responses acknowledging what women have and are going through have come late and under duress. Still, one should be gracious?


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

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