Goa hacks sound the alarm

BY Frederick Noronha| IN Regional Media | 05/08/2014
Goa journalists use an awards function to decry falling standards and opportunism. These trends need to be discussed,
Says FREDERICK NORONHA. Pix: Left to right--Nagvenkar, Patil, Naik, Singbal, Sequeira.

Goa's century-old body, the Goa Chambers of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), has for the second year running presented awards to journalists in the state for their contribution to the profession.  But the awards function on the weekend turned into an opportunity for journalists to voice their concerns over the direction in which their once-respectable profession is headed and debate questionable trends in their field.

The struggles of pension-less retired journalists, the shrinking space open to meaningful journalism, and falling standards were some of the issues that were raised.

"Considering that the media space for independent and professional journalism is really shrinking, I think the consideration is much appreciated," said Devika Sequeira, in an acceptance speech comprising exactly one sentence. A journalist for over three decades and editor of the Herald Review, she received an award for her exemplary contribution to the press room.

Formerly the Goa bureau chief of the Deccan Herald, Sequeira belongs to a generation that knows other models of journalism. She was one of the handful of experienced journalists who oversaw the shift-over from the then 80 year old oHeraldo Portuguese newspaper, called the only Portuguese daily in Asia, to being an English-language newspaper in 1983.  She has been credited with the ability to lead a team, get the best out of them, and bring out an excellent product.

Senior journalist Gurudas Raoji ‘Kaka’ Singbal, given a lifetime’s achievement award by GCCI, said: "There is no doubt, that we as journalists provide very useful service to the society.  Yet individually and collectively we do very little for ourselves.  I'm specially referring to the plight of retired and aged journalists in our country."

Singbal added that, after retirement, he began to discover that the lot of a retired journalist is no better than that of a shopping mall salesman. "With dwindling bank interest, your own retirement funds income cannot you sufficient income to lead a retired life.  Health problems become your permanent companion.  Unless you have a wife employed in the Central Government, or some public sector undertaking, who can bring some pension home, or you are lucky to have caring children willing to care of your needs, life can be one big ordeal,” he said.

Singbal started his career with Goa's first English daily, the Navhind Times, in the early 1960s.  After rising to chief reporter, he was bureau chief in the short-lived West Coast Times (late 1970s), and then bureau chief in Goa for the Indian Express.  

He worked for 37 years and the citation noted that he often espoused the cause of the underprivileged, besides teaching journalism, being the founder-president of the Goa Union of Journalists, and the first chairman of the Press Accreditation Committee in Goa.

"Sometimes in my evening walks, in the company of retired government officers from the neighbourhood, when I tell them that journalists get no pension, they look at me in disbelief and wonder how I can make a living without a pension.  I'm convinced a  contributory pension scheme and reasonable health cover is essential not only for journalists but for all sections of the working class of this country, from domestic helpers to taxi drivers and from a plumber to a journalist.  You can't be expected to do serious work after a certain age," he added.

Journalist "super computer" Vinayak Naik, editor-in-chief of Goa Today, known for his amazing ability to recall facts and numbers, said he had worked for 208 issues of the monthly over two decades, and had reported sick on barely three days.

He criticised the increasingly visible "journalistic sin of suppressing the truth and suggesting the falsehood" which he said even some prestigious publications were indulging in these days.

Conceding his own embarrassing mistakes - "never intentional or due to negligence" - he said reading an issue after it was printed only reminded him how much improvement was possible in "headlines, choice of words, captions, typos, missed punctuation marks which make me go sleepless." So, he never read an issue once it was printed.

Naik said he never failed to support a person or cause he thought was just, even if it went against the interests of influential people and criticised the media for "fawning on people in power".  This, he said, was the reverse of journalism of courage and amounted to "journalism of  opportunism".

Newspapers were increasingly selling their entire front pages to advertisers.  Naik added: "At one time, every editor would take pride in showing off the front page of his or her paper.  That's because that page would be the showpiece, or rather the face of that paper.  Today, unfortunately, for commercial reasons, it has been allowed to get defaced."

He suggested that what was needed was for editors to also show 'intestinal fortitude' or guts.

Lokmat Panjim bureau chief Sadguru Patil, who won the award for best regional language journalist, said there were many and varied types of prizes coming everyone's way.  "Who gives the award is an important issue.  Some pay to receive an award, and there are also those who charge to bestow awards," he said.

The best English-language journalist award went to the 'enfant terrible' of Goan journalism, Mayabhushan Nagvenkar who accepted the award wearing Bermuda shorts and said he was donating the Rs 10,000 prize to the Goa Union of Journalists.  

Referring briefly to online journalism, he said: "Somehow a lot of journalists in Goa have not been able to vibe and sync with the online face of the profession." Nagvenkar said he hoped the prize could be spent by the local journalist body "maybe developing a website, or developing the interface between the media and the profession".

The best electronic media journalist award went to InGoa.com's founder Anil Laad, credited with starting his cable TV network in 2004 with "one camera and one computer".

The Editorial Director of The New Indian Express, Prabhu Chawla was the chief guest at the event, held in Panjim.

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