NEW DELHI – An Indian TV journalist given this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel, said on Friday that his faith in democratic values and press freedom helped him to cross the line of fear in the face of life threats and relentlessly abusive online trolling.
Ravish Kumar, who conducts a daily news show in Hindi on popular NDTV news channel, was among the five recipients of the award, named after ex Philippines president Ramon Magsaysay, who is revered for his commitment to democracy and his work for ordinary people.
Kumar, 44, said he had been going through tough times in his journalistic career and the award was in recognition of his belief in upholding the values of democracy and free media.
“Every award has a context. It is difficult to protect our own values and keep faith in them when our values are shred apart, when you are being made to feel that whatever you are doing is no longer relevant,” he said, referring to his critics, in a clip released online.
The journalist said he didn’t want to recall how he has suffered in the past few years. “I have experienced that and crossed the line of fear. One day, I believe that those who have been threatening us will realize that whatever they did was not good.”
The award in Kumar’s recognition of his fearless reporting and knack for speaking truth to power was widely hailed by activists and the opposition in India – a country where, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalists are subjected to fear and violence in their line of work amid declining media freedom.
Rahul Gandhi, one of the top leaders of the opposition Indian National Congress, said: “Ravish Kumar, who without fear, without changing, showed the mirror of reality to those in power.”
Many other opposition leaders also tweeted congratulatory messages for the journalist.
Renowned lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan said no one in India deserved the award more than Kumar. “At a time when most journalists have become lapdogs and cheerleaders of those in power, Ravish has shown what real journalism of courage is. Raising real issues and speaking truth to power.”
According to a Magsaysay statement, Kumar has been honored for “harnessing journalism to give voice to the voiceless” and his “unfaltering commitment to a professional, ethical journalism of the highest standards.”
The statement recognized “his moral courage in standing up for truth, integrity, and independence; and his principled belief that it is in…speaking truth bravely yet soberly to power, that journalism fulfills its noblest aims to advance democracy.”
The jury said Kumar’s journalistic standards stand out “in a media environment threatened by an interventionist state, toxic with jingoist partisans, trolls and purveyors of fake news.”
India is one of the countries in the world where, according to media watchdogs, the press is not completely free and Kumar has been one of the victims of online trolls who support Hindu-supremacy and draw their political ideology from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The journalist has in the past faced life threats and has been one of the closely followed subjects of abusive and abrasive online trolling that he said was “well organized and has political sanction” after his complaints to police drew no action.
He even wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2017 giving details of these threats but got not response from the government.
India ranks 140th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index 2019 compiled by Reporters Without Borders released. At least six journalists were killed in connection with their work last year, according to the watchdog.
“These murders highlighted the many dangers Indian journalists face. Attacks against journalists by supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi increased in the run-up to general elections in the spring of 2019,” the non-profit said in its analysis released in April.
It said supporters of Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, were “trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate.”