The India chapter of the International Press Institute, IPI-India, on Friday conferred the Award for Excellence in Journalism 2022 jointly to The Print and NDTV correspondent Saurabh Shukla.
Shekhar Gupta, Founder-Editor of The Print, accepted the award which was given for the news portal’s “stories which exposed how hospitals, local bodies and governments in various States mismanaged the support system for the fight against COVID”.
Mr. Shukla was awarded for his coverage and exposure of hate speeches at a religious event in Haridwar in 2021. “The [TV news] channel not only captured the speeches on video, but also interviewed some of them who justified their speeches. The expose also led to arrest of a few of the speakers,” IPI-India said. The winners received a cash prize of ₹1 lakh each, a trophy and a citation.
Former Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit gave away the awards at an event organised by IPI-India at the Constitution Club of India. The winners were selected by a jury which was led by former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B. Lokur, and included IPI-India Chairman and Chairman of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. N. Ravi, former Press Trust of India Editor M.K. Razdan, as well as The Week chief associate editor Riyad Mathew as members.
‘Sedition law a thorn in the flesh’
Addressing a gathering of various media personalities and other dignitaries, Justice Lalit advocated for the freedom of press, adding that fair criticism was the right of every individual and was not sedition. “Section 124A [of the Indian Penal Code for sedition] has always been a thorn in the flesh for all journalistic ventures,” he said.
“Fair criticism is the right of every individual, [it] is the cherished right of every journalist. I have every right to comment upon the policies and acts of the government. If I do that, then it is not sedition. Sedition is something bigger than that: inciting disaffection to incite rebellion. If I do something which is to highlight the problems by people and I put it across, it is not sedition,” Justice Lalit said, quoting freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who had been convicted and imprisoned for six years under Section 124A in 1908.
Justice Lokur added that the quality of journalism has changed since the last award as it was tougher to pick up the best. “But the area where there has been no change is bit troubling. The assault on freedom of press is still continuing,” he said.
The former apex court judge also mentioned, without specifying, various instances of journalists being booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. One such journalist includes Kerala-based Siddique Kappan, who was recently released from a prison in Uttar Pradesh.
‘Free speech under threat’
In his address, Mr. Ravi called for removal of the sedition law from the statute books.
“These are trying times when free speech is under threat by State and non-State actors and we look to the courts to safeguard the right. There have been some disappointments, [such as] when the challenge to criminal defamation failed. In the case of sedition, however, the Supreme Court has kept the law in abeyance.
“Sedition is a colonial era law under which leaders across the political spectrum starting with Tilak through Savarkar, Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were arrested. It is time sedition was removed from the statute books, taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s stay,” he added.
The coverage for which The Print received the award was done by seven of its journalists, namely Jyoti Yadav, Soniya Agrawal, Praveen Jain, Fatima Khan, Aneesha Bedi, Manisha Mondal, and Suraj Bisht Singh. Accepting the award, Mr. Gupta credited the culture of a newsroom, the teamwork, which goes into making of a story even though it’s just the reporter who gets the byline.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Shukla said that the expose was not just against those making the hate speech but also the system and the police which did not take action.
The award ceremony was also attended by Phillip Mathew, Fellow, IPI-International and Managing Editor, The Week as well as R. Prasannan, co-ordinator, IPI-India and Resident Editor, The Week.
The annual award was instituted by IPI-India in 2003, to recognise and honour the best work done by an Indian media organisation or journalist working in print, radio, television and internet media, in furtherance of public interest, including safeguarding of freedom of the press and other freedoms such as human rights.
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 IPI. The organisation’s Indian chapter has successfully hosted the World Congress and General Assembly of the IPI in India in 1966 and 2001, and is taking up various issues related to press freedom.
Founded 72 years ago in New York by a group of editors from 15 countries, IPI has grown into a global organisation committed to the furtherance of the freedom of press. The Vienna-based organisation is committed to the promotion of free exchange of accurate and balanced news among nations. It has also been in the forefront of safeguarding the freedom of the press through protests to governments and organisations against any violation of press freedom and restrictions imposed on the free flow of information.