Rajdeep and Barkha must decline the Padma Shri

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Now that CNN-IBN’s editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai and NDTV’s managing editor Barkha Dutt have become the first television journalists in the history of independent India to get the Padma awards, they must do three things.

1) They must revel in the high honour. They must thank everybody including the viewers who silently saluted their successes and withstood their excesses, and not forget to include Prannoy Roy in their prayers.

2) They must send thank-you SMSes to friends and admirers who have been greeting them, send sweets to their guests and interviewees, and thank their colleagues and employees.

3) And, thirdly, then they must call up Rashtrapati Bhavan and politely decline the Padma Shri: “Thank you for recognising us. We mean no disrespect to the honour or to the other awardees, but we have to say no.”

Make no mistake. The Padma Shri is not be sniffed at. It’s the nation’s fourth highest civilian award. For Rajdeep to get it at 43, and for Barkha to get it at 37 making her “the youngest journalist to receive it,” as her channel has been crowing since last night, is a significant feat in their very fine, individual careers, whether you like them and their channels. Or not.

But they must still say no.

Reason No. 1: They must say no, because working journalists who are still at the peak of their careers must decline any kind of honour from the government of the day. Yes, the Padma Shri comes in the name of the President, but it is the government which tells her who she should give it to.

Rajdeep and Barkha may argue that the Padma Shri is not a freebie, that scores of print journalists, many of whose contributions are a mystery even to this day, have walked away unquestioned. So, why should we decline? Answer: to stray off the beaten print path, set a TV trend, and tell the government that journalists are only doing a job.

Journalists are not hermits. But if they must accept prizes, awards, and honours, it must be from professional organisations, not from the government. And if they must accept it from the government, it must be after they have hung up their hair blowers, and are no longer in positions of power as journalists.

A bit like Vinod Dua, the third television recipient to get the honour this year.

Reason No. 2: Both CNN-IBN and NDTV have borne the brunt of a relentless attack from the BJP and the rest of the right wing, who have parodied the alleged pseudo-secularism of the channels. The attack has been petty, baseless and has usually come from those who have no understanding of the true role of journalism and journalists.

Rajdeep and Barkha must say no not to spite the saffron brotherhood but to show that they were not hankering after awards while reporting what they did.

The Padma Shri comes from the Congress-led UPA government in its final if not penultimate year in office. What the honour does is to expose them and their channels to the unfair charge of being recipients of the largesse of an outgoing “pseudo-secular” government.

You can very well imagine the shouting brigade of the lunatic fringe dining on this crumb for days and months to come, especially in an election year.

Neither Rajdeep Sardesai nor Barkha Dutt can prefix their names with Padma Shri, but even if they could, they are better off declining it. Since both are television people, they will realise the TRPs that the heroic act of saying no will fetch them not just in tonight’s bulletins but for a long time to come in the eyes of the viewers.

Photographs: courtesy Indian Embassy, Greece; CNN-IBN

Cross-posted on sans serif