The importance of plain speaking, honest reporting

I  was barely a little over a year old in Rotary News, when on a fine February morning in 2016 I got a letter by snail mail all the way from Washington County in the US. It was on the letterhead of a past RI President called Charles C Keller. Honestly, at that point I did not know the venerable gentleman’s tremendous contribution to the Rotary world, but I quickly soared to a dizzy height when I read its content. It said he had been receiving copies of The Rotarian and several regional magazines for many years and read them all avidly as they gave a lot of useful information on Rotarians’ activities around the world. He then went on to say that he had just finished reading the January issue of Rotary News (a major chunk of which was devoted to the then RI Director Manoj Desai’s Jaipur Institute) and “I find it to be one of the best issues of a regional publication I have ever seen.”

The magazine, he added, “gives a very enlightening picture of how Rotary performs and develops in India”. While this was praise indeed, PRIP Keller then went on to use two words that are distinctly missing from our media these days. He said the issue “honestly reports the pluses and minuses” of Rotary in India and gives a detailed account of the “tremendous work” done by Indian Rotarians. (The letter of President Keller, who passed away recently, is carried on Page 41).

“Honest reporting” is something that has disappeared from the bulk of the Indian media these days, and in my career in journalism spanning nearly 40 years I have never encountered such stringent criticism, and even contempt, for the Indian media. While the scope for investigative journalism in a magazine meant for Rotarians is limited, it would be foolhardy and meaningless to look at the organisation, Rotarians and their work only through
rose-tinted glasses. That is why it is encouraging to find that more and more senior Rotary leaders in India, including the serving RI Directors from our zone, do not shy away from calling a spade a spade while turning their lens on the shortcomings of Rotary in our zone. Every RI President in the recent past and the current President Ian Riseley, as well as President Elect Barry Rassin, has been more than generous while complimenting Indian Rotarians for their generous contribution to TRF, execution of great service projects that are changing the face of the communities they inhabit. But at the same time, there is critical concern on shortcomings such as boosting membership in an unsustainable manner. As RI Director C Basker keeps saying at various meetings, there is little purpose in getting in large numbers of people to join Rotary, if they are going to “enter en masse and leave en masse” as well. At the Kuala Lumpur Zone Institute Past RI President KR Ravindran in a “frankly speaking” session asked some very tough questions about the shortcomings in Indian Rotary to both the Past Presidents from India — Rajendra Saboo and Kalyan Banerjee. And neither of them flinched from giving honest answers that took an unsparing look at the weaknesses or deficiencies of Rotary in India.

We at Rotary News have striven to bring you accurate and verbatim reporting of senior leaders’ honest appraisal of how a few rotten eggs, when it comes to dishonesty, stewardship issues, excessive complaints marking copies to top RI leaders, etc, can spoil the image of Indian Rotarians, the majority of whom are working so hard to form credible partnerships and transform thousands of lives in their communities. After all, the first step in solving a problem is to recognise it exists…

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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