25th NATIONAL CONVENTION OF CHRISTIAN JOURNALISTS
Under the aegis of the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA), the 25th National Convention of Christian Journalists was held in Don Bosco Centre, Okhla, New Dlehi on February 29, 2020. For the past 25 years, the convention has served as a meeting ground for journalists to discuss the issues, events and trends that affect journalism.
The topic for the Silver Jubilee edition of the convention was Journalism Today: Pragmatism Triumphs over Principles. The esteemed guest list included Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi; Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur; Archbishop emeritus Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati; Rev. Fr. Stanley Kozhichira, president of SIGNIS India; former Supreme Court Judge Justice Kurian Joseph; H.K. Dua, former editor of the Indian Express, Hindustan Times and the Tribune, diplomat and nominated member of the Rajya Sabha; M.K. Venu, founding editor of the Wire; T.K. Rajalakshmi, senior deputy editor with the Frontline; Rohit Wellington, senior editor and anchor with NDTV; and Rev. Fr. Cedric Prakash, writer and human rights activist.
The inaugural session of the day-long convention started off with a prayer dance, lighting of the lamp and a reading from the Holy Bible. The welcome address was rendered by Rev. Fr. Dr. Suresh Mathew, ICPA secretary and chief editor of Indian Currents weekly news magazine, who in his speech quoted famed newspaper publisher Ramnath Goenka and said criticism from the government should be a badge of honour for journalists.
Bishop Lobo set the tone for the discussions of the day by emphasizing on the need to voice the truth in order to lead to justice.
ICPA President Ignatius Gonsalves began the presidential address by highlighting that the context clarifies and magnifies the content, and that journalists, especially Christian journalists, are precariously placed. He also spoke about “truthophobia” that is becoming increasingly prevalent today in the field of journalism and quoted the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” to put a across the point that journalists must anchor themselves in the current media landscape, which he described as “encircling gloom.”
In the key note address, Archbishop Couto stressed that media has a prophetic vocation to raise voice against the evils in the society. Speaking about the future of the fourth estate, he cited freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Kesari newspaper (founded in 1881) and voiced the need for nurturing more such Kesaris that would speak truth to power.
The subjective nature of truth was brought to the discussion by Fr. Stanley, who in his felicitation address said that when the nature of one’s truth is based on the Indian Constitution the weightage is more.
In the second half of the morning session, the guests and the attendees gathered once again for an enlightening panel discussion, moderated by Ms. Rajalakshmi. Joining her on the stage were Mr. H.K Dua, Mr. Venu and Mr. Wellington.
After reflecting at length on the need for objective reality in the functioning of journalists, Ms. Rajalakshmi invited Mr Dua to share his thoughts on the theme of the day. The senior journalist recalled a time when journalists feared going wrong in their reporting and contrasted it with the present where it is the fear of writing the facts that is prevalent among scribes. They are asked to “tone it down,” which Mr. Dua noted is a veiled reference to make the content acceptable or palatable.
Addressing the gathering, Mr. Venu of the Wire called for small media organizations across the country and the world to collaborate in order to fight for the rights of the citizens. The million media organizations will lead a “million mutinies” — a nod to V.S. Naipaul’s book “India: A Million Mutinies Now,” Mr. Venu said. He also called regional media platforms the “redeeming part of the media landscape” as they are reading, writing, analyzing and consuming news.
Mr. Wellington appealed to the mediapersons gathered to turn their gaze inwards and ask a pertinent question — “Are we being the voice of the voiceless we set out to be?” Highlighting that “opinion is cheap, facts are sacred,” he posed another thought-provoking question — “Are we challenging the noisy landscape or becoming party to it?”
He also noted that journalism has reduced to compliance and silence, leading to erosion of trust in media. He also listed degeneration of language, collapse of empathy and the forgotten ability to listen as some of the fallouts of the bleak media landscape.
The final panelist, Rev. Fr. Cedric Prakash began his address by announcing that he will be speaking as a priest and a Christian. Drawing attention to the prophetic identity of Christian journalists, Fr. Prakash stressed that the role of a journalist should be like that of a prophet who announces the good news. He also stressed on the importance of commitment, courage, collaboration and conscience.
Notably, the guests at the event were welcomed with a copy of the Indian Constitution to highlight the responsibility of journalists to uphold the constitutional values.