Text of Keynote speech “Reflections on Media Freedom” made by Mr.N.Ram the Chairman and publisher of the Hindu group of Newspapers in India at the Inaugural Award Ceremony of the Esmond Wickremesinghe Annual Award for Media Freedom held at the Committee Room ‘A’ of the BMICH, Colombo on September 29, 2015
“They are run on a very simple formula: publishing all the news the government wants to hide.”
— Esmond Wickremesinghe at the 24th General Assembly of the
International Press Institute (IPI) in Zurich, 1975
Esmond Wickremesinghe (May 29, 1920-September 29, 1985) is one of the most interesting and significant figures in the two-century-old history of the news media and journalism in South Asia. His engagement with the newspaper world over close to four decades divides cleanly into two chapters.
The first chapter covers his hands-on editorial and business leadership of Sri Lanka’s leading newspaper group, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, between 1947 and 1973. The second chapter sees contributions of a different kind, moral and strategic leadership, following nationalization of the Lake House group, of an independent journalism experiment managed by working journalists. During this period, Esmond made forays in the wider realm of politics and foreign policy – a role that brought him to India twice, in 1984-1985, on a peace-building mission as President J.R. Jayawardene’s foreign policy advisor. The media experiment involved three newspapers published, even-handedly, in the three different languages of the country. These papers worked, as he told his IPI audience in 1975, on the simple formula of “publishing all the news the government wants to hide.” It remains a pretty good formula today, in every country where the news media as a relatively independent democratic institution matter.
If I may be allowed to strike a personal note, “Esmond,” as he was always referred to by my father, G. Narasimhan, and my uncle, G. Kasturi, was professionally and personally close to the generation at the helm of The Hindu that preceded me. I recall meeting him, when I was a young man, on a couple of occasions. The two newspaper people from Sri Lanka who were household names in our family, admired for standing up for the independence and freedom of the press, were Esmond and Tarzie Vittachi, editor of The Ceylon Observer and author of Emergency 58, whom I came to know quite well.
Contemporaries, both played important roles in the affairs of the International Press Institute, Esmond, as an IPI stalwart and its chairman between 1966 and 1968, Tarzie as Asian director between 1960 and 1965. Not surprisingly, the award in May 1965 of the “Golden pen of freedom” to Esmond at the Congress of the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers for his “huge five-year battle to maintain Press freedom in Ceylon” (to quote from the citation) was reported in the columns of The Hindu.
So let me say how privileged I am to have this opportunity to share my thoughts at this inaugural award ceremony of the Esmond Wickremesinghe Annual Award for Media Freedom, which marks the 30th anniversary of his death.
N.Ram, being felicitated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ~ facebook.com/ranil.wickremesinghe.leader
The theme I have been invited to speak on is media freedom – not so much in the abstract or formal sense as in the real world of today, where big business and, in some cases, political heavyweights are increasingly seizing control over ownership and editorial content across all media platforms.
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