News report sparked Kalam’s wings on fire

Outgoing Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam spoke at the Excellence in Journalism Awards show organised by The Indian Express in New Delhi on Monday. These are edited extracts from the president’s speech.



Ramnath Goenka is remembered for his journalistic professionalism and promoting freedom of the media, even during the difficult days of press censorship. He was a multi-faceted personality—a freedom fighter, a doyen of Indian journalism and a relentless crusader for democratic values. He launched The Indian Express in 1932, which soon became a multi-lingual newspaper under his able guidance.

During World War II, I was 13, and my eldest brother worked as a sub-agent for some newspapers, including Swadesha Mitran and Dinamani. I would be very excited to open the first copy of Dinamani (published by The Indian Express group) to see how the Spitfire aircraft was performing against the German fighters from Luffwaffe. In fact, my interest in aeronautics became deep-rooted through the news in Dinamani. There may be many inspiring events taking place every day throughout the world. Journalists can lock on and present such events as important news.

In 1999, I was in Tel-Aviv. Hamas had inflicted heavy damage on the Lebanese border. The next day, when I opened the newspaper, this was not front page news. Instead, there was an item about a farmer from Russia who had settled in a desert zone in Israel. He had managed to cultivate vegetables and fruits in the area with very high yield. The newspaper was celebrating his success, probably because people look for such news. I consider this excellence in journalism.

I have a suggestion for the media. It is essential for every newspaper to have research wings for developing media personnel in reporting and event analysis. The research wing has to be linked to academic institutions. This will enable our journalists to carry out original research on topics of national interest and provide solutions to medium and long term problems.

When outsourcing to India was big news, a US journalist stayed in India and studied these issues. He found that the equipment used in companies engaged in Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs) were mostly imported from the US and Europe, therefore creating an indirect market for hardware industries in those countries. This was big news in India. Similarly, after Thomas Friedman spent a month in India, he wrote his book, The World is Flat, which became an international bestseller. Such is the power of research. I would suggest that our Indian newspaper agencies encourage research carried out by our young journalists.

After discussions with farmers and specialists in drought affected areas in Vidarbha district recently, I believe there is a need to take an overall view of the cotton farming operation in the region. This should include provision of quality input, training the farmers on improved methods of farming or cultivation, marketing of the produce and action to be taken when there is failure of rain. For preventing severe drought, there is a need to create a large number of water bodies to harvest rain water. In addition, there is a need for local textile industry to work with the farmer and provide them marketing support for their produce without going through the process of middle men. Also, the banking system should reach every village in the Vidarbha district so that the farmers are not exploited by the money lenders.

Journalists, particularly editorial teams, may like to study the problem in detail and suggest methods to help the state government for finding lasting solution.

Everyday, road accidents and other emergencies lead to loss of life and property which is much higher than the loss due to war or terrorists’ attacks. A method to save over a million lives every year and prevent the associated damages has been put into practice in Andhra Pradesh. The Emergency Management and Research System in Hyderabad integrates multiple agencies to provide a quick and comprehensive emergency response. People can call a toll free number — 108 — either from a fixed or a mobile phone. This enables the timely arrival of an ambulance. This programme has been launched in all the 23 districts of Andhra Pradesh including rural areas, and is equipped with 380 ambulances. To date over 11,500 precious lives have been saved and the average response time has been reduced to 36 minutes.

India needs a national emergency service mission to save the lives of over one million people a year. Journalists can play a very important role in realising this mission by effectively articulating all aspects suitably to all the possible stake holders of the programme and quantifying the benefits which can accrue to society.

Journalism can be an effective tool for economic and political development of the nation. The media have a tremendous impact on the minds of the younger generation and anything other than courageous, truthful and positive journalism would strike at the very root of the future of a healthy younger generation on whom the future of the nation depends.


In the picture above, Kalam takes part in a panel discussion on whether good journalism makes good business. From left, Rajdeep Sardesai (CNN-IBN), Barkha Dutt (NDTV), Shobana Bharatiya (Hindustan Times), N. Ram (The Hindu), Shekhar Gupta (Indian Express), and Pankaj Pachauri (NDTV).


Text and photo courtesy: The Indian Express

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