Prem Bhatia was one of the most eminent and influential journalists of our times.
During his active career span of six decades, his writings on political and social events were characterised by independence of judgement, objectivity and exceptional analytical ability.
Prem Bhatia’s professional excellence and editorial skills left a distinct mark in the newspapers which he wrote for and edited. These included The Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore), The Statesman (Calcutta and Delhi), The Guardian (London), The Times of India (Delhi), The Indian Express (Delhi) and The Tribune (Chandigarh). Among the many awards he received was the prestigious B.D. Goenka Award (1985) for excellence in journalism and indomitable courage and professional integrity.
Prem Bhatia lived a life enriched by varied experience, ranging over such diverse fields as journalism, radio, the Army, the civil and diplomatic service. He traveled extensively and was included in India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s entourage during his official foreign visits. His personal example and guidance helped shape a dynamic new generation of journalists who have brought credit to Indian journalism.
Born in Lahore in August 1911, and educated at Government College Lahore (1928-34), Prem Bhatia started his professional life as an apprentice sub-editor with The Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, then owned by British proprietors and sister paper of the Lucknow Pioneer. After five years with The Civil and Military Gazette, Prem Bhatia joined the News Department of All India Radio in Delhi.
In 1942 his life took a turn when he joined the Army as an officer in the Public Relations Directorate. He saw active service in the theatres of Burma and the Middle East and in three years rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1945, he resigned form the Army and took up the post of Director, Public Information, and Joint Secretary to the undivided Bengal Government under Lord Casey and subsequently H.S. Suhrawardy, who established and headed a Muslim League government in Bengal in 1946.
In 1946 he returned to active journalism by joining The Statesman as Political Correspondent with the rank of Assistant Editor. His stint continued for twelve years, with a short break as a diplomat (First Secretary) under Ambassador Vijayalakshmi Pandit in Moscow. During his years at The Statesman, Bhatia was the senior-most Indian member of the British dominated staff of the paper.
Late in 1958, Bhatia was invited to become the Editor of The Tribune, published at the time in Ambala before moving to its present Chandigarh home. The following year he returned to Delhi as Resident Editor of The Times of India. In 1963 he took on the Delhi editorship of The Indian Express, together with becoming the correspondent in India of The Guardian (London and Manchester).
In 1965, he was chosen by Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri to rejoin the diplomatic service and appointed High Commissioner for India in Kenya. After a four year tenure, he became High Commissioner in Singapore in 1969. After serving for eight years as head of mission, Bhatia returned to journalism as Editor-in-chief and Director of the feature agency, INFA which was founded by Durga Das, the eminent journalist.
In 1977 Bhatia moved back to The Tribune, now in Chandigarh, as Editor-in-chief of the English daily and of its sister Hindi and Punjabi publications, which he was instrumental in starting.
Nine years later, in 1986, Bhatia retired from his post and returned to New Delhi, agreeing, however, to remain as Consultant to the Tribune Trust.
As a free-lance journalist in New Delhi, Bhatia wrote a regular signed column for The Tribune which was syndicated to other national papers. He also wrote another column for Mid-Day, published from Bombay and Delhi.
In his younger days he was a keen cricketer and captained Punjab University and this love of sports was carried to golf in his later years.
Bhatia was involved in many organisations including The Press Council of India. He was Director of the Press Trust of India and a member of the National Integration Council.
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