Why Rajdeep and Barkha must decline Padma Shri

26 January 2008

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Now that CNN-IBN’s editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai and NDTV’s managing editor Barkha Dutt have become the first television journalists in the history of independent India to get the Padma awards, they must do three things.

1) They must revel in the high honour. They must thank everybody including the viewers who silently saluted their successes and withstood their excesses, and not forget to include Prannoy Roy in their prayers.

2) They must send thank-you SMSes to friends and admirers who have been greeting them, send sweets to their guests and interviewees, and thank their colleagues and employees.

3) And, thirdly, then they must call up Rashtrapati Bhavan and politely decline the Padma Shri: “Thank you for recognising us. We mean no disrespect to the honour or to the other awardees, but we have to say no.”

Make no mistake. The Padma Shri is not be sniffed at. It’s the nation’s fourth highest civilian award. For Rajdeep to get it at 43, and for Barkha to get it at 37 making her “the youngest journalist to receive it,” as her channel has been crowing since last night, is a significant feat in their very fine, individual careers, whether you like them and their channels.Or not.

But they must still say no.

Reason No. 1: They must say no, because working journalists who are still at the peak of their careers must decline any kind of honour from the government of the day. Yes, the Padma Shri comes in the name of the President, but it is the government which tells her who she should give it to.

Rajdeep and Barkha may argue that the Padma Shri is not a freebie, that scores of print journalists, many of whose contributions are a mystery even to this day, have walked away unquestioned. So, why should we decline? Answer: to stray off the beaten print path, set a TV trend, and tell the government that journalists are only doing a job.

Journalists are not hermits. But if they must accept prizes, awards, and honours, it must be from professional organisations, not from the government. And if they must accept it from the government, it must be after they have hung up their hair blowers, and are no longer in positions of power as journalists.

A bit like Vinod Dua, the third television recipient to get the honour this year.

Reason No. 2: Both CNN-IBN and NDTV have borne the brunt of a relentless attack from the BJP and the rest of the right wing, who have parodied the alleged pseudo-secularism of the channels. The attack has been petty, baseless and has usually come from those who have no understanding of the true role of journalism and journalists.

Rajdeep and Barkha must say no not to spite the saffron brotherhood but to show that they were not hankering after awards while reporting what they did.

The Padma Shri comes from the Congress-led UPA government in its final if not penultimate year in office. What the honour does is to expose them and their channels to the unfair charge of being recipients of the largesse of an outgoing “pseudo-secular” government.

You can very well imagine the shouting brigade of the lunatic fringe dining on this crumb for days and months to come, especially in an election year.

Neither Rajdeep Sardesai nor Barkha Dutt can prefix their names with Padma Shri, but even if they could, they are better off declining it. Since both are television people, they will realise the TRPs that the heroic act of saying no will fetch them not just in tonight’s bulletins but for a long time to come in the eyes of the viewers.

Photographs: courtesy Indian Embassy, Greece; CNN-IBN

Cross-posted on churumuri

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11 Responses to “Why Rajdeep and Barkha must decline Padma Shri”

  1. Salil Tripathi Says:

    Rajdeep and Barkha had the option to turn down, but they must have weighed their options and decided to accept the award. My understanding is that to prevent the adverse publicity that could follow when someone declines such an award, weeks before it is declared, someone from the government calls the intended recipient to ask if s/he will accept the honour, if offered. If the person says no, the matter ends there. It would be foolish for a person to say yes and then grandstand. So my guess is that Rajdeep and Barkha were sounded out, and asked, and they had agreed. As both are intelligent people, they’d have weighed these factors, and then chosen to accept. It is their choice. I agree with the post; they should not have accepted the award, for very much the reasons you’ve mentioned. But my guess is that it might be too late now.

    I know both of them personally, and wish them well.

    Salil

  2. Aatmasakshi Says:

    If indeed Mr Sardesai and Ms Dutt were sounded out before their names were announced, that compounds the crisis of credibility that the Indian media is going through, largely of its own making.

    Was it so difficult for these seemingly bright, hard working people to detect that they would now be exposed to constant scrutiny because, fairly or not, people would make the connection? Is the prize so big that it was difficult to resist the temptation, even at the cost of having their credibility questioned for all time to come? Or were they like all of us, just too eager for recognition, secure in the belief that a BJP-led government might not give it to them?

    If they were sounded out, when could that have been? Surely not the night before they were picked. Because for a fortnight or more, both denizens were anchoring programmes on the civilian honours. If they were doing so in the full knowledge that their names were in the air, what does it tell us?

  3. Latha Mahadevan Says:

    There are few people like Jean Paul Sartre who refused the Novel Prize to retain his objectivity as a writer. When one accepts state sponsored award, is it possible to maintain one’s journalistic freedom?

  4. NameDoesntMatter Says:

    Here are my reasons for thinking why it is fine for journalists to accept state awards:

    1. A good journalist’s striving for credibility is unrelated to any award. It’s a professional ethic and he will strive for it before and after an award, and whether or not he gets an award. Anybody who gets an award has ample time to continue displaying his credibility and proving the critics wrong. So, “will diminish credibility” is poor ground for rejecting an award or asking somebody to reject.

    2. Recognition is a morale booster (we are all human beings, not robots) and it is unfair on the readers’ part to tell a really good journalist to reject an honour when he gets one. When a really good journalist is honoured, why do we readers feel happy? Probably because it’s something that society has given him indirectly (through a club, firm or the government). It shows that our society appreciates him and his hard work. It is a signal from readers to the journalist that he’s on the right track, he’s extraordinary, etc. I feel that our efforts should be directed at depoliticising the state awards, instead of asking the recipient to reject it.

    3. Half the trouble comes from many of you journalists thinking that you are society’s warriors, always fighting the government. So, you think a state award is unacceptable, but an award given by a private foundation in New York is fine. Who are you guys trying to fool? Please cut the posturing. Expose the government, praise the government — try to be credible. It’s our government and we’ll not grudge you if you are honoured by us for your hard work. I don’t think Sainath will stop reporting on rural poverty if the government gives him Padmasree. I think he’ll continue with his weak analysis and poor presentation, though :)

    As for Sardesai and Dutt, let’s call a spade a spade. Instead of practising high standards of news journalism and being role models in a young industry, these first generation leaders of Indian TV journalism run news channels irresponsibly. Through unimaginative, cheap and unproductive programming like “Big Fight” and “We, the People”, or by getting the usual suspects to mouth predictable views, NDTV and CNN-IBN score low marks in journalism. Instead of building their own credibility (as journalists and new channels), these editorial heads rely on methods like sms polls to develop informed public opinion! Can’t these eminences put together each day a 5-minute excellently-researched programme (go ahead, put in your confident editorial tone) that is more useful and no less entertaining? Or maybe we should develop other better formats. Honouring these entertainers with a Padmasree for “journalism” was a joke. It would be a bigger joke if these superstars of Indian TV journalism used “credibility” (of all things) as a reason to reject the honour.

    Let them claim the awards now. Let’s reserve the applause till Sardesai and Dutt develop responsible news programming in India.

  5. krishna Says:

    what will the govt give ppl like shekar gupta, tavleen singh

  6. deepak Says:

    Rajdeep, Barkha, Sagarika, Prannoy Roy and Vinod Dua not to mention the scores of other CNN IBN and NDTV reporters/jouros are ALL bought one way or another…cash or kind. It is more than apparent. Intelligent vocal observers like Vinod Dua have taken to food!! Hey Ram!! Allowed his brain to be parapelgic. Allowed his passion to stray. All this for maybe an apartment or a car or some promotion or job or an award!
    Shame on them! He has the tapes and he is not showing them. Height of shamelessness!

  7. g kapuria Says:

    The UPA Govt of India gave them Padma Shri awards because they are anti-Hindu and favor the Congress party. What is so hard about understanding this simple thing?

  8. Vinay Kumar Says:

    I am really surprised to see these people being awarded for conducting very cheap and unimaginative and largely imposing programs.They should have declined it

  9. commie.basher Says:

    now we know why they got the award from congress in the first place.

    both acted like congress sponsored pimps on phone to a corporate lobbyist.

  10. Vijay Says:

    Rewards for service rendered well….

  11. DeshPremi Says:

    Definitely both of them do not deserve our Nation’s one of the highest honors. …


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