Twenty persons or organizations, cited for their deep concern for exploited citizens, received the ninth annual Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards yesterday at a Kennedy Center luncheon.

Acel Moore and Wendell Rawls, whose investigative reporting on abuses at the Farview (Pa.) hospital for the mentally ill appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, received the $3,000 rand prize. Evan White of KGO-TV, San Francisco, received a $1,000 broadcast prize for a series on the elderly.

Though several large and familiar new organizations were represented among the winners, honorable mentions and special citations, a number of smaller organizations also were cited for choosing, in the words of author Arthur Schlesinger "to speak out for those powerless to speak for themselves."

Paul and Mary Shinoff, for example, special citation winners, make up the entire staff of the Northern California Labor Pulse. And Ed Fillmer of KYTV in Springfield, Mo., told of being cameraman for his own interviews, achieved by setting up a camera and then stepping around in front of it.

Max Cleland, head of the Veterans Administration, delivered what awards committee member Jack Nelson called "one of the most stirring addresses I've ever heard," one that prompted Ethel Kennedy to rush forward to thank Cleland for his words.

Cleland, who had both legs and his right arm blown off in a grenade explosion in Vietnam, told how he was inspired to enter government service by the late Robert Kennedy, something that had not been known to committee members when Cleland was asked to substitute as speaker for Vice President Mondale.

Honorable mention awards went to Christopher De Salvo, the Southern Illinois University Daily Egyptian; Bob Dotson, WKYC-TV, Cleveland; E.W. Faricloth , Burlington County (N.J.) Times; Bob Minnocci, West Virginia University Daily Athenaeum; Sy Pearlman, NBC; Edward T. Pound and Pam Zekman, Chicago Sun-Times; Loretta Schwartz, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia magazines; Jody Weiseman, Washingtonian magazine, and William Willson, KCET, Los Angeles.

Special citations were awarded to Thom Dickerson and Lee Meredith, KTRK-TV, Houston; Ed Fillmer, KY-TV, Springfield, MO.; KGO-TV, San Francisco; Lake Placid (N.Y.) News editorial staff, and Paul and Mary Shinoff, Northern California Labor Pulse. CAPTION: Picture, Sen. Edward Kennedy and his mother, Rose, with Wendell Rawls and Acel Moore of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Rawls and Moore are the recipients of a $3,000 Robert F. Kennedy journalism award for their investigative series on abuses at a hospital for the mentally ill. By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post