On Journalism and a Free Press
Text of a message from Abraham George that was delivered at the
foundation stone laying ceremony at the proposed journalism institute
grounds on Sunday, April 23, 2000.
The proposed IIJNM, modelled on the Columbia University Graduate School
of Journalism at New York, is an undertaking of the Adi Chunchunagiri
Maha Samasthana and The George Foundation. These two organizations joined
hands last year to establish BS&G Foundation, a non-profit trust, to
start the journalism institute. The first academic year is set to begin
in January 2001.
The 28,000 sq ft, Rs 5 crore building will come up on five acres of
campus grounds, roughly 3 km off the Bangalore-Mysore highway from Kumbalgod.
The institute will have all the modern amenities required of a world-class
academic institution, with computers and internet access for all students
and faculty. The library will contain books, newspapers, magazines and
journals from around the world to offer exposure to quality journalism.
The IIJNM will offer a Diploma programme equivalent to the Masters'
curriculum in journalism developed in association with Columbia University
Graduate School of Journalism, home of the prestigious Pulitzer Prizes.
It will closely resemble the curriculum offered at Columbia, but will
be adapted to suit the requirements of the Indian context.
Initially, the institute will offer courses with special emphasis
on print journalism and web publishing. Later, majors in broadcast journalism
will also be offered. Students can choose to specialize in areas such
as national politics, international reporting, writing on business and
economics or arts and culture. They will be involved with in-house publishing
of a web newspaper, and work on a magazine. The faculty is being recruited
from all over India, and will include visiting professors from abroad.
As a non-profit institution, not associated with the government or
private industry, IIJNM will have the independence that is required
to preserve freedom of the press. We will train our students to strive
for quality in journalism and maintain objectivity, fairness and ethics.
IIJNM will give them the tools to practice balanced reporting, in-depth
analysis and investigation, and present different points of view.
Why is a strong and free press essential for our democracy? For 50
years after WW2, the world experienced the cold war where everyone's
destiny was in the hands of two superpowers. Their two leaders controlled
life and death. In the last decade, an even more powerful force often
being termed as globalization is replacing cold war. One of the fundamental
ingredients of this new force is a combination of computer technology
and communication on a global scale. The Internet has brought peoples
of the world together - in information, markets, finances and technology.
The press is now delivering news in ways more than the printed matter,
radio and television. It is reaching out to everyone through the Internet.
Now the individual has the power, at least in truly democratic countries,
and increasingly so even in less democratic nations, from access to
We should try to inject ideas of mutual understanding, tolerance,
and spirituality. We need to insist on the notion of a participatory
public, as opposed to special interest groups and favors, to allow citizens
to be accountable for their own destiny. A public emerges when citizens
take part, not when they merely watch. Citizenship is more than voting;
it means participating in the dialogue of democracy. Participation does
not end with elections. The press is one of the major vehicles of this
Our system of government and public activity has failed to resolve
many of the fundamental problems that have constrained us for years.
One reason is that our public discourse has become the verbal equivalent
of mud wrestling. Indian press needs to reaffirm the principle that
it is possible to carry out deep analysis of political actions and their
consequences on social life that rational human beings will recognize
as being true, regardless of whether the conclusions point adversely
on one segment of the society or the other. Lacking such an understanding
will continue to alienate each group of people in the name of our separate
People want to know what is happening to them, and what they can do
about it. As Bill Moyers put it, millions of people are not apathetic;
they want to understand the world around them; and they will respond
to a press that stimulates the community without pandering to it, that
inspires people to embrace their responsibilities without lecturing
or hectoring them, and that engages their better natures without sugarcoating
ugly realities or patronizing their foibles.
One of the roles of newspapers and periodicals is to provide a culture
of community conversation. The purpose is not just to represent and
inform, but to signal, tell a story, and activate inquiry. When the
press abandons that function, it no longer stimulates what a great philosopher
once termed "the vital habits" of a democracy -- that is, "the ability
to follow an argument, grasp the point of view of another, expand the
boundaries of understanding, debate the alternative purposes that might
IIJNM will strive to develop in its students these "vital habits"
of a true democracy.