Ramon Magsaysay for NDTV’s Ravish Kumar, giving Voice to the Voiceless

By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, TIO: Fear and love are very powerful emotions that decide our failure and success. Ravaged by fear since 2015, star reporter and anchor, Ravish Kumar of the popular NDTV television channel, and now the winner of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay award has held steadfast to his love for his work and for the people to whom he holds his brief for. The more he was boxed in fear, by the current political dispensation, the more he fought back with incisive stories, rooted in the basics of old-fashioned journalism, which has virtually disappeared from the headlines.

This return to the basics has almost killed him and has made him an outsider in his own journalist fraternity. The more the Narendra Modi government went after the channel he worked for,  even ensuring that it was blacked out by the local cable operators, when his program was on, to resorting to tax terrorism against the owners of the channel, Prannoy Roy, the more focused he was on his task of exposing the government’s inefficiency, failures, and corruption.

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It, however, would be a huge fallacy to conclude that he is biased only against the present government when he has been equally critical of the previous UPA government since 2011 when he became the host of his prime time show. He did not lose momentum when in 2015, BJP spokespersons like Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Jawadekar, now ministers in the current government, boycotted his show. These were the same guys who insisted on being on his show when he was criticizing the congress. After the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) boycotted his show, his panelist’s driven show became redundant and he quickly changed the format of the show, to rescue the TRP’s and to make his show relevant.  He achieved the impossible in style, with his researched oriented stories. Fear thus conquered, it was a matter of time before several awards and recognition came his way in India and now internationally as well with the Ramon Magsaysay award.

Ravish Kumar at a recent Convention, of Aligarh Alumni in Atlanta, the USA with Syed Ali Rizvi

Though two other journalists, P Sainath, and Arun Shourie have won this award in the past, none have fanned the kind of emotions that Ravish Kumar has. It is like each one of his millions of fans in India and abroad, wanted to be a part of his joy and celebration, all of which was acknowledged by him in a Facebook post.

This could partly be because of the social media, but a large part of it, has also been Ravish’s work, which has centered around waning jobs in the government sector where lakhs of posts are lying vacant, the plight of contractual teachers and professors who have been teaching for decades, without being confirmed, the falling standards in educational institutions, whether it is government schools, colleges, or universities, rise in farmer suicides, the plight of bank employees, especially women, the plight of railways and its employees, the fraud that’s being committed on students as regards the government exams, all of which were suggested by viewers who trusted him with their stories, imploring him to take it up. These are the kinds of issues, which would embarrass any government if it surfaced and was therefore sought to be buried in a wave of jingoism, which a breed of journalists had been re-trained to harp on from morning to evening.

What looked like a masterstroke by the BJP, deciding to boycott Ravish Kumar’s show, in 2015 turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The unnecessary noise created on his prime time shows became a deafening silence which he had to cover up with some smart reporting to rev up the TRP’s again.

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While the rest of the channels, both English and Hindi, and a host of regional channels, reduced prime time debate to cockfights every night, Ravish belted out series after series of “real” issues, which required hours of intense research, which left him furiously churning out a minimum of 5000 words a day. He often complained about the lack of resources provided to him, but never let his standards of reporting fall, even when it meant putting in the extra hours for himself and his team as well.

His constant pleas to stop watching television to his viewers, not sparing his own show, seems to have had an impact as well. Like everything in the country today, even media viewership is polarized. Ravish Kumar has a massive fan following on social media and on his shows, who only watch him every night and go to sleep, while the other half watches his former colleague in NDTV Arnab Goswami and Sudhir Choudhary, his Hindi news competitor, both of whom, along with the rest have been left red-faced with Ravish’s recognition.

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No wonder then Ravish was besieged with congratulations from the common man and woman, when most of the media ignored the news with their petty silence. The same media had gone gaga over Narendra Modi’s unheard of Philip Koetler award, which became a source of ridicule on the net. The factor that neither the twitter savvy prime minister nor his band of merry men congratulated him, despite the worldwide recognition, is a reflection of the troubled times, against which the award acquires double the sheen.

Ravish Kumar who has been with NDTV for the last 25 years, has grown with the channel. He has helped Hindi journalism acquire credibility of its own, which also helped him keep his spot in the channel when a lot of his compatriots were losing their jobs. Though his boss/mentor and owner of the channel, Prannoy Roy, is being credited with his success, it seems more like a symbiotic relationship, where each helped the other to wade through troubled waters. It is to Ravish’s credit, that he stayed cool and focused on facts, instead of resorting too unnecessary aggression against the present government, winning hearts and respect from his viewers, which made his ouster difficult.

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It is strange that the same channels which prosecuted the earlier UPA government and the former prime minister Dr. ManMohan Singh, without any fear, developed cold feet, criticizing the present government, when it is part of their brief, to keep every ruling government on their toes.

Since Ravish, refused to give in to fear, he was trolled incessantly on social media, forcing him to quit twitter. Even his brother Brajesh Kumar, a congressman and his sister, a government employee was hounded, in an attempt to silence him. He faces death threat on a daily basis and it reached a point when he didn’t care even his phone number was made public and he became an easy target to trolls and threats. It is in this scenario that Ravish Kumar’s quiet, efficient and polished approach won him the love, the respect, the TRP ratings and now this prestigious award as well.

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Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi




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