Ranjona Banerji: Things have never been so bad…

24 Mar,2023

By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiCongratulations to the winners of the Ramnath Goenka awards for excellence in journalism. Chosen by an elite panel, these winners represent some of the best work in Indian journalism today, telling stories about forgotten people, issues that affect us and subjects that will never make it to screaming TV debates. These award-winners, and the awards cover the pandemic years as well, represent all journalists who work at their actual jobs – not PR, not government and party propaganda, not owner-diktats – despite pressures from all sides.



The Ramnath Goenka awards are given out by the Indian Express group. For decades, the Express was the journalists’ paper: it did the stories which no one else would bother to do but many wanted to do.

Lately, though, once avid fans like me have turned their back on the Express. Not just were the once-awaited in-depth investigations too rare in appearance, but opinion pages appeared to have become mouthpieces for the ruling party and its supporters and also mainly for politicians.

I am not alone in these regrets.

Thus, there was much exclamation, amazement and admiration at the very strong speech which Indian Express editor Raj Kamal Jha gave at the awards ceremony.

Since the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, was chief guest, Jha directed his comments to a larger hope that the judiciary would remain firm in the face of untold pressures to our democratic system.

These words particularly resonated for journalists and interested citizens:

“For journalists and journalism, year after year, case after case, their starlight has illuminated the road ahead… that’s why, when the lights dim, when a reporter is arrested under a law meant for terrorists, when another is arrested for asking a question, when a university teacher is picked up for sharing a cartoon, a college student for a speech, a film star for a comment, or when a rejoinder to a story comes in the form of a police FIR – we turn to the North Star for its guiding light.”



Jha’s tone was light, but his words are heavy with meaning.

Much as our fence-sitting “liberal” journalists and commentators play their destructive “both-sides” game and refuse to acknowledge the damage they have done to the media, to Indian polity and society with their false equivalences; all journalists know that things have never been so bad. I do not, as ever, include star TV anchors in my definition of journalists. They fall in some other category which parliamentary language rules debar me from using.

I will repeat again what I have said before: no government before this has been as vicious with the media, and with anyone who speaks truth to power, in as consistent a manner as this one.

The subversion of democracy has happened on several levels in the past almost nine years and it continues. And tragically and shamefully, many in the media have applauded this regime’s stranglehold on press freedoms.

In his own quiet way, Jha referenced this. He also appealed to the judiciary. But sadly we have also seen the judiciary being slow in its bail applications when it comes to freedom of speech “transgressions”.

And as all this was happening, journalists got a reminder that the assault on a free press as guaranteed in the Constitution has not stopped.

Journalist Irfan Mehraj was arrested by the NIA for alleged “terrorist” activities on Monday.




The regime has persistently gone after journalists in Kashmir. Even more so after the abrogation of Article 370. Democracy itself has been shelved in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, so why would journalists get a free pass?


Various media organisations have issued strong statements. Jha has made a strong statement.

But our biggest dangers are from within. As long as powerful media owners like Aroon Purie of Living Media continue with their public hero-worship of Narendra Modi and his BJP government, the rest of the media will continue to suffer and more often than not, pay a heavy price for trying to speak truth to power.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal


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