HIGHLIGHTS

  • His book, A Journey Through India, meticulously details development projects and their problems across the subcontinent in the late 1950s.
  • In 1966 he became Information Advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, seeking to translate into official policy some of the convictions he had garnered as a reporter.
  • His accessibility, fair-mindedness, modesty of manner and life style, and generosity bespeak individual qualities matching his professional competence.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his superior developmental reporting of Indian society, balancing factual accounts of achievements, shortcomings and carefully-researched alternatives.

 CITATION

Encouraging economic and social progress in lands impatient for advancement requires that sound ideas be available to guide decision makers and form the basis for informed discussion. Vested upon the fourth estate is responsibility for a critique of events beyond the routine concept of news reporting. The press is obligated to apprise the public realistically of available national and regional choices, the time and effort each may demand, and the benefits to be expected.

Such reporting needs intimate knowledge of the subject, combined with historical perspective. The writer must be aware of the boundaries of his own competence, for the temptation is ever near to presume to offer opinions inadequately substantiated by experience. As a generalist, the reporter must synthesize from the experts’ findings and, with utmost regard for accuracy, make these comprehensible and interesting to the lay reader.

BOOBLI GEORGE VERGHESE has practiced journalism within these exacting professional criteria with a perspicacity matched by few of his colleagues anywhere. His book, A Journey Through India, meticulously details development projects and their problems across the subcontinent in the late 1950s. Design For Tomorrow, published in 1965, similarly scrutinizes hurdles and progress on India’s Five Year Plans. In March 1974 his Will to New Purpose: Gandhi’s Truth Recalled presciently anticipated his nation’s new quandary.

Born in 1927 in Burma where his father was an army doctor, VERGHESE by chance became a newspaperman. He was completing his studies in economics at Cambridge University and hoping for a job with the United Nations when an opening for an assistant editor with The Times of India led to apprenticeships on the Glasgow Herald and the News Chronicle before he returned to Bombay. There and in New Delhi, where for many years he was chief correspondent of The Times of India, VERGHESE evolved his style of reporting.

In an occupation encumbered by cynicism, VERGHESE has remained an optimist with critical integrity. Despite all of its uncertainties and competitiveness, journalism for him is zestful. Yet his sense of public duty is strong. In 1966 he became Information Advisor to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, seeking to translate into official policy some of the convictions he had garnered as a reporter. From this experience in observing the limitations besetting administrative power, he moved to edit the Hindustan Times.

As one to emulate, professionally and personally, VERGHESE has few peers among a generation of Asian journalists. His accessibility, fair-mindedness, modesty of manner and life style, and generosity bespeak individual qualities matching his professional competence. His involvement with work is as consuming as is his commitment toward moving India in the direction of self-disciplined liberty as charted by the late Mahatma Gandhi. In this VERGHESE has proven himself a worthy disciple of the father of modern India.

In electing BOOBLI GEORGE VERGHESE to receive the 1975 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board of Trustees recognizes his superior developmental reporting of Indian society, balancing factual accounts of achievements, shortcomings and carefully-researched alternatives.

 RESPONSE

I deem it a great privilege and honor to be chosen to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts in 1975.

Few achievements are individual. People and institutions are shaped by the environment in which they live and work. It is therefore the tradition of constructive inquiry nurtured by the Indian press and its growing readership over a century and more which I, in turn, acknowledge and uphold in accepting this Award.

The late President Ramon Magsaysay was a distinguished son of the Philippines, a man who felt for the common people, a leading statesman. It is entirely fitting that the Magsaysay Foundation should have named awards after him in the fields of government and public service, community leadership, and international understanding. If journalism has been added to the list, it is because Ramon Magsaysay was himself a great communicator who well understood the role of communications in politics and development.

The press, especially in a developing society, is more than a mirror. It stands somewhere between university and government. It has a duty to its readers, whose confidence it has to win and whose interest it must maintain and seek to enlarge day after day. But its true constituency is society, the community as a whole?the illiterate, who cannot read newspapers; the impoverished, who cannot buy them; and the underprivileged, whose problems and aspirations need to be articulated.

Asian newspapers, indeed the media as a whole, cannot afford to be or remain an elitist and predominantly urban phenomenon. For that would be to turn their backs on the masses and to ignore the true message?of development and the fight against poverty. And nowhere have the people to be educated and organized for change more than in the countryside?in the farms and villages; and in the slums?the vast, sprawling, inadvertent cities being spawned by runaway rural migrants, Malthusian refugees.

Change is the law of life. But to what kind of change must the masses of Asia aspire? Imitative change is to be avoided, and there are dangers in the blind adoption of Western or other imported development models. Modernization does not necessarily imply Westernization; nor should it suggest a wholesale turning away from tradition and cultural values, shorn of superstition and dead habit.

India, for its part, is rediscovering the message and the wisdom of Gandhi, a man far ahead of his time. The Mahatma was concerned with the quality of life, starting with what he called “the last man.” He believed in building from below. His goal: “To wipe the tear from every eye.” He preferred consensus to competition, emphasized right means and placed society above the state.

At a moment in history when even the most affluent nations are in search of an alternative society, the countries of the Third World too need to rethink their future. Where are they headed? To what should they aspire?

In this quest our countries have much to learn from one another while absorbing whatever is of value from elsewhere. And in this task too, the press has its part to play. The Magsaysay Award, by focusing on Asian experience and bringing Asians together, contributes to this purpose.

My wife, Jamila, and I are grateful to the Board of Trustees for your gracious invitation to this ceremony and for the opportunity to visit this beautiful country. We shall return enriched by this experience and by the many friendships made.

For me, the Magsaysay Award will ever remain an inspiration.

 BIOGRAPHY

Born in Maymyo, Burma, on June 21, 1927, BOOBLI GEORGE VERGHESE, known professionally as B.G. or GEORGE VERGHESE, was the third of four siblings, with two older sisters and a younger brother. His father, also George, was an officer in the Indian Medical Service who rose to become Deputy Director General of that service. His mother, Anna, was the disciplinarian in the family. GEORGE’s father was stationed in Burma when GEORGE was born but spent most of the rest of his career in eastern and northern India. In Hazaribagh, Bihar State, GEORGE recalls listening with fascination to the tales of the great Pathan independence leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was a political prisoner at the central jail there. He was sent to the Doon School in Dehra Dun, United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh) as a member of the first class and, according to a colleague, “is still held up to the boys there as a model.” Finishing high school at Doon he went on to St. Stephen’s College in Delhi where he graduated with a B.A. in Economics in 1948. He earned a second B.A. in Economics from Trinity College, Cambridge, England, in 1948.

VERGHESE’s involvement in journalism was accidental. As he wrote in an article for the Doon School Magazine: “I walked into the office of the Secretary of the Cambridge University Appointments Board to find out . . . how to apply for a job in an international organization like the UN or ILO, and was instead asked if I would like to try for a post on The Times of India.” The Times was seeking an assistant editor, preferably one who had majored in history or economics. VERGHESE’s only previous experience in journalism had been with the Doon School Weekly and The Midget at St. Stephen’s. Nevertheless he was accepted and spent some time before returning to India apprenticed by The Times of India to the Glasgow Herald and the London News Chronicle. He was to remain with The Times of India for the next 17 years.

From the beginning of his newspaper career VERGHESE was concerned with developmental journalism reporting on India’s struggle to modernize its economy and society. He was not content to be a reporter only, but undertook to be a “mover” as well, committing himself to helping the common man achieve a decent standard of living, to encouraging society to recognize the rights of those lowest on the social scale as well as those at the top, and to restructuring government to make it more efficient and just. The sense of integrity and discipline that he imbibed from his parents, his excellent academic training, and his inborn concern for all men, women and children peculiarly fitted him to become the doyen of developmental reporting in India.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)