Former editor-in-chief of The Hindu, and the current director of The Hindu Publishing Group, Narasimhan Ram, started off BOOM's #TruthSeekers Fest by highlighting fact-checking as the basics of journalism.
Citing from the book, 'The Elements of Journalism,' by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil, Ram stated out that 'journalism's first obligation is to the truth'. He then went on to explain the challenges to objective reporting in the current Indian sociopolitical scenario, and the increasing need for journalists to defend objective reality through their reporting.
The #TruthSeekers Fest, which saw the launch of BOOM's membership programme, was followed by a keynote address by Ram on 'The idea of truth in a polarised India' and a panel discussion between a set of distinguished members of Indian journalism. The panel members included Newslaundry's Abhinandan Sekhri, Dhanya Rajendran from The NewsMinute, Tejas Harad of Satyashodak and Kanchan Kaur from Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media.
During his address, Ram also stressed upon the importance of digital news media, in the backdrop of traditional media outlets failing do their job, and the increasing pressure from the government to curtail the freedom of digital journalists through the newly introduced IT rules.
"After the Delhi riots in February, 2020, lies were put out by the mainstream media, which failed to provide the truth to the people. While they failed the people, online outlets like The Wire, and The Caravan stepped in and did a good job, staying in the frontline to report," Ram said.
"When traditional news media is failing to do its job, digital platforms are trying to bypass these traditional channels and get the truth out there,"he said. "And that is why the government wants to control these digital media outlets through the IT Rules, 2021 - because they are becoming increasingly significant."
While touching upon the topic of the new IT rules, he also questioned on the lack of commitment to fighting fake news, especially deliberate disinformation campaigns, in the new intermediary guidelines.
"You need to make a distinction between disinformation, which is deliberate and motivated, and mostly fuelled on online platforms. Have they (the Indian government) done enough to tackle this online harm? But in the name of tackling online harm, the government is using undemocratic methods," Ram said.
To further illustrate his point about the challenges to objective truth in current India, Ram took the recent example of the Central government relying on the lack of data on deaths caused due to lack of oxygen during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, to brush of its accountability.
"They used a technical answer to hide the truth," he added. Ram drew upon The Hindu's reporting on this matter to state that hundreds of people had, in fact, died as a result of not getting oxygen while suffering from COVID-19, and that this truth was covered by by a technicality.
Adding to his point about how the current Indian regime undermine objective truth, Ram also took the example of the recent income tax raids at Hindi news outlet Dainik Bhaskar's offices. "We need to express our solidarity with Dainik Bhaskar, as these income tax raids are a retaliation against their outstanding journalism during COVID," he said.
During his address, Ram also touched upon the topic of polarisation in India, and highlighted the role played by right-wing Hindutva politics in dividing the public. He further drew upon the recent study published by Pew Research Center on which highlighted India's preference for segregation.
"Today, the challenge is from right, and extreme-right. It largely comes from is the Hindutva authoritarian regime. Not just the BJP government, not just some individuals, but a whole formation," he said.
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