In Search of Excellence, In Defence of Freedom of the Press The year was 1965. It was a period of political turbulence in Kerala. The press was as much a participant in the political developments as politicians were. The first generation of journalists of the united Kerala was making its presence felt in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital. Some of them had by then made their reputation at national and international levels.
The idea for a Press Club was first conceived at a get-together at RM Manackalath’s (Correspondent of Mathrubhumi) Wheat House retiring room at Pulimood near the State Secretariat. That was the first meeting of the ‘Press Club, Trivandrum’.
A dozen of them: K Balakrishnan (Kaumudi), KC Sebastian (Deepika), KC John (The Times of India), R Sampath (The Hindu), PR John (Malayala Manorama), PC Sukumaran Nair (Kerala Kaumudi), RM Manackalath (Mathrubhumi), CRN Pisharody (Janayugam), KR Ravi (Kalabhooshanam), Tharayil Chellappan Pillai (Malayala Rajyam), ‘Minerva’ Krishnan Kutty, whose studio on the MG Road was the “watering hole” and another meeting place, and KNB Rajan.
They were soon joined by others like M Sivaraman, who had just then returned to Kerala after an illustrious career with Reuters and MS Mony (Kerala Kaumudi).
Things moved swiftly afterwards. Kerala was under President’s Rule at that time. The group approached Governor Bhagvan Sahay with the request for a piece of land and building for the Club. The building they identified, right opposite the Central Stadium, was then the official residence of the Sergeant at the Secretariat. The Governor ordered the release of the building to the Club for a minimal rent. Then two prominent members of Trivandrum citizenry, Sreenivasa Karayalar and P Ramaswamy Pillai, came to the aid of founding fathers.
Bhagvan Sahay inaugurated the activities of the Club, attending the first ‘Meet-the-Press’ programme in the small building on February 8, 1967. Soon, the Club became the hub of media activities in Thiruvananthapuram.
Initially the membership fee was fixed at Rs 5. A constitution was adopted and the first executive committee elected PR John as president, PC Sukumaran Nair secretary and KC Sebastian the treasurer. Within a week, the membership swelled to 20.
Very soon, the founders succeeded in getting five cents of land adjacent to the building allotted to the Club. EMS Namboothiripad, who became the Chief Minister for the second time in 1967, laid the foundation stone of the Press Club Building on April 17, 1968. A bank loan of Rs 35,000 was sanctioned on condition that the executive committee members should stand guarantee for the loan. That triggered a crisis.
The person who bailed out the Club was MS Mony, who subsequently took over the reins as the Chief Editor of Kerala Kaumudi. He offered to stand guarantee for the loan along with the other committee members. The three-storied building was inaugurated on May 19, 1969 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Soon it started spreading its wings. The Institute of Journalism, the first journalism institute in India to be run by professional journalists, started functioning in 1968. The founder-director of the Institute was the legendary Reuters Correspondent M Sivaram whose vision and foresight soon made it a premier journalism training centre in India.
Almost every major media organization in India and institutions in the filed of mass communication have an alumnus of the Institute. The Institute offers a one-year Post-Graduate Diploma in journalism (PGDJ) and a Certificate Course in Electronic Journalism. In keeping with the changing needs of the time, the Institute has introduced new subjects of study, particularly in areas such as visual media and online journalism, with a fully-equipped laboratory. Catering to the changing times in 2006 the Institute showcased a new course for Citizen Journalists, another first in the country.
The Press Club has always striven to keep pace with the times. An old, thatched shed continued to link the original home of the Club with its new building. A proposal to replace it with a four-storied building was mooted in 1985-’86 when VP Madhavan Nair was the Club president and T Devaprasad (Deepika) the secretary. The Foundation stone for the new building was laid by Chief Minister K Karunakaran on November 27, 1986, in the presence of Information Minister KM Mani.
The building, with a cellar for recreational activities (Sanketam), was declared open by Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Ajit Kumar Panja on January 9, 1989, in the presence of Kerala Revenue Minister PS Sreenivasan and Leader of the Opposition K Karunakaran. The air-conditioned conference hall of the building, with the capacity to seat 100 persons, is the largest of its kind in Press Clubs anywhere in the country.
The foundation stone for the third building, replacing the original home of the club, was laid by President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma on February 13, 1996, when SR Sakthidharan (Deshabhimani) was the Club president and George Kallivayalil (Deepika) the secretary.
A second centrally-air-conditioned conference hall with the latest acoustic facilities was inaugurated by Chief Minister EK Nayanar on August 27, 2000 on the third floor of the first building. S Suresh of UNI was the president then and PP James of Deepika the secretary.
And the new building, which mainly houses the Institute of Journalism, was inaugurated by Chief Minister AK Antony in 2003 when J Ajith Kumar (The Hindu) was the Club president and K Sreekantan (Deshabhimani) the secretary.
In 2005, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy inaugurated the gymnasium in the cellar. VV Venugopal (Kerala Kaumudi) was the president and V Unnikrishnan (Grahashree) was the secretary then. A year later, the Chief Minister inaugurated the information centre and library on the ground floor of the new building when B Jayachandran (Malayala Manorama) was the president and SL Shyam (Mangalam) the secretary.
With the intention of promoting excellence in journalism, the Club has instituted nine annual awards. These are the M Sivaraman Award for News Stories and Features, the KC Sebastian Award for Political Reporting, the Swadeshabhimani Award for Layout and Design, the News Photography Award, the Cartoon Award, the National Award for the Best Features in English and the V Krishnamoorthy Award for the Best News Story in English.
The Press Club has diversified its activities into several new areas like exchange programmes with fraternal clubs, provision of media-related consultancy services to the government, conducting seminars, Meet-the-Press programmes and workshops on development and mass media-related issues, creation of new recreational avenues for members and their families and skill-upgradation programmes. It has also provided insurance cover for all its members and their families.
The search for excellence and an untiring struggle to preserve the highest ideals of journalism are guiding principles of Press Club. It reflects in all activities of the Club. With over 300 members now, the Thiruvananthapuram Press Club is scaling new heights with each passing year.