A Gandhian perspective
By Ela Gandhi
We live in a technological world where it has become easy to manufacture fake news, and within seconds transmit I worldwide. It has become extremely difficult to differentiate between real and fake news. In the present climate of “rights” culture, principles and ethics of journalism have had to bow to the right to freedom of expression.On the other hand fake news has become so common that people do not know what to believe and what not to believe.Media power has also increased considerably in the past decades with the advent of technology and accessibility of information.
But the power of media is seldom noticed because we each read our individual copies of the newspaper, or watch TV or listen to the radio or Google in our own homes and do not really notice the effect it is having on our thinking our knowledge base and our actions, not only as individuals but as communities.
But there are also constraints that affect the way journalists operate. Journalists are forced to bow to several pressures, the owners of media who want to see profits, the advertisers who want a particular slant to the media in order to attract the right consumers, the readers, listeners, viewers whose interests have to be satisfied, and finally their own personal prejudices and deeper convictions.
Journalists are trained to write in a way that attracts attention and therefore sensational, sexist, horror and mayhem reporting is encouraged.A result of this is churning up anger, resentment and hostility, which lead to violence.
Within this situation the challenge is how do we encourage media that is independent, non-judgemental, non-sexist, non-partisan, truthful and promoting a culture of nonviolence.
While Gandhiji is well known for his nonviolent action and spirituality, the fact that he was author of thousands of letters, hundreds of articles, edited scores ofjournalsand wrote hundreds of books is not known.
Freedom of expression was important but Gandhiji placed truth, justice and compassion above freedom of expression.In this article I trace Gandhiji’s experiments with journalism and tabulate the lessons he learnt towards the compilation of a code of ethics for media.
Kingsley Martin, a leading pioneer journalist said,
….we must face the fact that comparatively few people have a passion for truth as a principle or care about public events continuously when these do not obviously affect their own lives.People want to be pleased, and truth is not always pleasing. The scientist might have a disinterested desire for knowledge in his particular science, but he rarely applies the discipline of the laboratory to politics. Newspapers have always depended on their public, and the public hands out fortunes, not to those who present the truest possible picture of public events, but to the showman who can provide the most entertaining kaleidoscope. (1)
Gandhiji, as others before him, realised the effect of media as a powerhouse and therefore, he not only created his own media, but also developed and maintained a good relationship with the mass media.
2.Gandhiji the writer:
His writing was neither impulsive nor lacking in substance, as he did a thorough study of the subject before he wrote.
It was in London that his flair for both reading and writing began.He became an avid reader in London as a student.His first foray as a writer was when he wrote a series of ten articles on vegetarianism.
Thereafter in South Africa from his arrival in the country he began to write letters to the press about the various issues of discrimination faced by him and in particular faced by the community.
Later he began writing articles for Indian newspapers about conditions of the Indians in South Africa as well as other news of interest to Indians in India.Through his letters and articles he was able to maintain contact with India, a country of which he was a citizen and where he intended to settle.
3.Consequences of misrepresented reporting:
Gandhiji suffered the consequences of misreporting very early in his life.In 1896 on a trip to India, having missed his train, and having a few hours on hand in Allahabad, Gandhiji called the editor of The Pioneer, Mr. Chesney for an interview to discuss the status of Indians in South Africa. In this interview, Gandhiji gave a lengthy account of the plight of indentured workers with a view to influencing the British to stop the indenture system.Mr. Chesney did not agree entirely with Gandhiji’s views but nevertheless published an edited version of the interview.
While still in India, on 14 August of that year Gandhiji published his first little booklet called the Green Pamphlet, which dealt with the subject of the plight of the Indian indentured workers.This booklet not only got him recognition by the media in India, but, as he records in his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, it almost cost him his life.He wrote,
Ten thousand copies were printed and sent to all the papers andleaders of every party in India.The Pioneer was the first tonotice it editorially.A summary of the article was cabled by Reuter to England, and a summary of that summary was cabledto Natal by Reuter’s London office.This cable was not longer than three lines in print.It was a miniature, but exaggerated, edition of the picture I had drawn of the treatment accorded to the Indians in Natal, and it was not in my words.(2)
As a result of this misrepresented report of the Green Pamphlet, the Durban white residents were incensed and threateningly asked for the ship in which Gandhiji sailed to South Africa, together with another ship that had also come from India, to return to India with their passengers.In order to avoid the ominous confrontation with the white residents the authorities quarantined the ships for almost a month.Gandhiji wrote,
There were two charges against me:
1.That whilst in India I had indulged in unmerited condemnation of the Natal whites;
2.That with a view to swamping Natal with Indians I had specially brought the two shiploads of passengers to settle there. (3)
Gandhiji was confident in his denial of the charges and he and the other passengers refused to be intimidated.He described the events in his book as follows:
At the end of 23 days the ships were permitted to enter the harbour, and orders permitting the passengers to land were passed. ….Mr. Escombe had sent word to the captain that, as the whites were highly enraged against me, my life was in danger, my family and I should be advised to land at dusk, when the port superintendent, Mr. Tatum would escort us home. (4)
However half an hour after this communication, Mr. Laughton, the Shipping company’s legal adviser came to the Captain and asked to escort Gandhiji and his wife and children.He agreed that the wife and children should leave immediately and that Gandhiji and Mr. Laughton would follow on foot later.Once the family left, Gandhiji disembarked and began to walk home with Mr. Laughton.Gandhiji described the incident that followed:
They first caught hold of Mr. Laughton and separated us.Then they pelted me with stones, brickbats and rotten eggs.Someone snatched away my turban, while others began to batter and kick me.I fainted and caught hold of the front railings of a house and stood there to get my breath.But it was impossible.They came upon me boxing and battering.The wife of the police superintendent, who knew me, happened to be passing by.The brave lady came up, opened her parasol though there was no sun then, and stood between the crowd and me.(5)
Thus Gandhiji was saved from being killed.It all started from misrepresented reporting.Gandhiji went on to say in his book
On the day of landing,…a representative of The Natal Advertiser had come to interview me.He had asked me a number of questions, and in reply I had been able to refute every one of the charges that had been leveled against me.
I had given the interviewer all the literature and showed him that in India I had said nothing which I had not already said in South Africa in stronger language.I had also shown him that I had had no hand in bringing the passengers of the Courland and Naderi (the two ships) to South Africa ….The Press declared me to be innocent and condemned the mob. (6)
One can only dread to think what could have happened had Gandhiji not been saved from the mob by Mrs Jane Alexander, the wife of the police Superintendent.What a consequence, a false report could have elicited!
4.The Journalist Gandhi:
By the time Gandhiji reached the age of 30, he was well known to the media representatives and all the editors.He ventured into freelance journalism in 1899, writing on the experiences of the ambulance corps in the Boer War.His articles were published in The Times of India.Interestingly his perspective of the Boer War was so different from the perspective given by the young Winston Churchill, whose articles were published in the Morning Post.
While Gandhiji’s stories were of courage, valour, stories of the Afrikaner women and the terrible distress they bravely faced.Churchill’s stories were the stories of a warrior, dwelling on strategy and tactics the utter defeat of the opposition while encouraging the British to conscript and assist in this “important” war. (7)
Some of the key messages to media by Gandhiji are tabulated here:
A.Developing a culture of nonviolence:
Through Gandhiji’s writings we see the development of a philosophy of journalism towards nonviolence.
Gandhiji’s experiment with the establishment of his own newspaper began on 04 June 1903 when the first edition of the newspaper, Indian Opinion was published in 4 languages.This paper helped to inform the community not only on matters of interest but became both an educational as well as a mobilizing tool.Gandhiji declared that the policy of the paper was based on service and not on profit.He says when explaining his motive for starting the newspaper:
It was to educate public opinion, to remove causes for misunderstanding, to put before the Indians their own blemishes; and to show them the path of duty while they insisted on securing their rights. (8)
In the first edition the policy of the paper was outlined as follows:
This weekly newspaper is published in four languages namely English, Guajarati, Tamil and Hindi in the interests of the British Indians residing in South Africa.
The policy of the paper would be to advocate the cause of the British Indians in the sub-continent.But while it would insist upon the rights of the community, it would not be slow to point out to it, its responsibilities also as members of a mighty empire.It would persistently endeavour to bring about a proper understanding between the two communities, which Providence has brought together under one flag.
The advantages to the Indian community in subscribing to and
supporting this paper would be that
i.it would have a newspaper that would advocate its cause as well as give to all sections its news in their own languages;
ii.it would contain news specially affecting Indians of all parts of South Africa, besides local and general information;
iii.it would contain an epitome of events happening in India;
iv.it would give commercial intelligence; and
v.it would contain contributions from competent writers, Indians as well as Europeans, on all subjects-Social, Moral, and Intellectual.
The advantages to the European Community would be-
i.The paper would give it an idea of Indian thought and aspirations.
ii.It would acquaint it with such Indian matters as are not commonly known to it, and yet which should not be ignored by the true Imperialists.(9)
Interestingly in the first edition of the Indian Opinion in an editorial entitled “Ourselves”, he spells out the reason for the paper,
We need offer no apology for making an appearance.The Indian community in South Africa is a recognized factor in the body politic, and a newspaper , voicing its feelings, and specially devoted to its cause, would hardly be considered out of place: indeed , we think, it would supply a long felt want……The Indians, resident in British South Africa,…….labour under a number of legal disabilities which, it is contended on their behalf, are undeserved and unjust.The reason of this state of affairs is to be found in the prejudice in the minds of the colonists….Those that have immigrated as children, or are born in the Colony, have no opportunity of studying the past history of the nation to which they belong, or of knowing its greatness.It will be our duty, so far as it may be in our power, to supply these wants by inviting contributions from competent writers in England, in India and in this sub continent. (10)
Clearly Gandhiji was conscious of possible criticism that the content of the paper was confined to matters of interest to the Indian community.Yet his approach in the paper reveals a broader South African approach.He clearly intended Indians to be a part of the South African society even though at the time they were fighting a separate battle - a battle for human rights and not for liberation, as was the case with the African community.
From South Africa Gandhiji constantly wrote articles for The Times of India and to The Voice of India on issues affecting the Indian community in South Africa.While writing in Indian Opinion he also wrote articles and letters in other newspapers within South Africa and overseas.
B.Developing a nonracial attitude:
But he gave much prominence to issues affecting communities other than the Indian community as well. There was clearly a policy to inform readers, majority of who were Indians, of what was happening in the country, broadly and extended solidarity with their struggles.A simple straight forward style was typical of Gandhiji’s writing.
In the course of his writing in South Africa Gandhiji developed his philosophy of life and a set of guiding principles for his writings.The thought processes and the reading that he had to do in order to write the many articles and other documents helped him in charting his philosophy of life.
C.Gandhiji’s outlook on life:
By 1909,16 years after being away from India and living in South Africa he began to put together his worldview. While sailing on board the SS Kildonian Castle from a trip to London returning to South Africa Gandhiji wrote his seminal book, Hind Swaraj.The book was written in Gujarati and published in the pages of Indian Opinion in installments. Later it was translated by him into English.He sent a copy of the book to Count Leo Tolstoy, one of his mentors, for comment. A reply dated 08 May 1910 brought glowing praises for the book and encouragement to continue with the nonviolent movement.Sadly it was on November 20th 1910 that Tolstoy passed away. Gandhiji addressed a memorial meeting held, at the Socialist Hall in Johannesburg on the 4th December to commemorate the passing away of Tolstoy.
The book contains important ideas, which formed the basis of his philosophy. He wrote it in the form of a dialogue between reader and editor and in this way tried to clarify his views of life.Here he expressed his respect for tradition in general and his belief in the traditional respect for elders.
aImportance of ancient wisdom:
He acknowledged the views of others such as Prof. Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dr Dadabhai Naoroji whom he referred to as the “Grand Old Man of India” and other prominent Indian men. His love and respect for older people is reflected in the following statement:
It is a bad habit to say that another man’s thoughts are bad and ours only are good and that those holding different views from ours are the enemies of the country. (11)
This statement reveals his level of tolerance and acceptance of diversity.The book reflects powerful support for the Eastern or ancient beliefs and a rejection of the modern or Western beliefs. Gandhiji’s ideas about swaraj or liberation are crystallized in this book. He contends that replacing British rule with Indian rule does not equal swaraj.He talks of the self destructing nature of modern civilization.He writes:
Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word “civilization”.Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life. ….This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will self-destroy. (12)
He explains in the book that true civilization is not contained in what we have but in our character. He goes on to say that Indians are fast imitating the west and running after worldly pleasures which would only result in their own destruction.He writes:
India is being ground down, not under the English heel, but under that of modern civilization.(13)
Gandhiji strongly believed that India’s freedom or swaraj lay not in the replacement of political leadership but in following the path of the traditional value systems of India.He writes:
Civilization is that mode of conduct, which points out to man the path of duty.Performance of duty and observance of morality are convertible terms….We notice that the mind is a restless bird; the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied.The more we indulge our passions the more unbridled they become.Our ancestors, therefore, set a limit to our indulgences.They saw that happiness was largely a mental condition.A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich or unhappy because he is poor. (14)
His idea was not to throw out the English from India but to liberate India through enlightenment:
My patriotism does not teach me that I am to allow people to be crushed under the heel of Indian princes if only the English retire.If I have the power, I should resist the tyranny of Indian princes just as much as that of the English.By patriotism I mean the welfare of the whole people, and if I could secure it at the hands of the English, I should bowdown my head to them. (15)
bSarvodaya or the welfare of all
His idea of the good of all or Sarvodaya takes root in the words “welfare of the whole people”.He further elaborates his idea of non-violence in this book and defines non violence as a way of life and not just a strategy to be used in political situations, thus developing the doctrine of Satyagraha or soul force or Truth force.
His constant lack of dogmatism is revealed in his acknowledgement to his son Harilal who asked his father what he wouldhave expected him to do when Gandhiji was being beaten up by the Whites in 1908 after alighting from the ship.Gandhiji’s simple reply to him was:
If you run away or you do not save me, that would be a sign of imbecility.If you cannot save me except by putting your life at risk, then you should fight with the attacker to save me.Use of physical strength is much better than cowardice. (16)
He advocated a non-violent life style in which there would be no reason for violence.
dImportance of unity
Asked about setting up of another political party, he denied that there was room for another party, but said that the moderates must come together with the extremists to build India.He advocated a complete shift from the western way of life to a return to one’s roots. Basically away from crass materialism to humane, compassionate caring lifestyles, aimed towards building unity across all the divides.
In the book Hind Swaraj he refers to a number of issues which indicate the radical transformation of Gandhiji’s thinking and lifestyle; from his younger days of aping the English, to a conscious decision to seek his own roots, and identify with the indigenous philosophy of life. These beliefs have guided his writing.
In his younger days Gandhiji could have been described as a male chauvinist who tried to dictate terms to his wife, Kasturba, and assert his male superiority. However, Kasturba, a strong woman in her own right, consistently resisted and held up her own status and dignity. In the course of Gandhiji’s transformation he began to change his views on the status of women.
On the issue of women’s depiction in literature and the press Gandhiji says:
I am told that our literature is full of even an exaggerated apotheosis of women.Let me say that it is an altogether wrong apotheosis.Let me place one simple test before you.In what light do you think of them when you proceed to write about them?I suggest that before you put your pens to paper, think of woman as your own mother, and I assure you the chastest literature will flow from your pens. (17)
Gandhiji reflects here his total respect for women and their dignity as well as recognition of their rights and their strength to be able to determine their own destiny.He constantly told his readers that women have to undertake research of their own grievances and their demands and place them before society.In one article in Young India he stated:
I am uncompromising in the matter of woman’s rights.In my opinion she should labour under no legal disability not suffered by man.I should treat the daughters and sons on a footing of perfect equality. (18)
Many women were mobilized to participate in the struggle in South Africa in 1913.Among the more prominent women were of course Kasturba, and Veliamma but there were many other women Satyagraha who joined the campaigns
Gandhiji’s words are immortal and when we read what he had to say to women in Paris and later in Switzerland we can see how relevant they are today.
In a foreword written by Shree Amrit Kaur, Gandhiji is quoted :
“If only women will forget that they belong to the weaker sex, I have no doubt that they can do infinitely more than men against the war,” he said to women in Paris in 1932; and again in Switzerland. “I do not know if I have the courage to give a message for the women of Europe, that you have asked for.If I am to do so without incurring their wrath, I would direct their steps to the women of India who rose in one mass last year, and I really believe that if Europe will drink in the lesson of non-violence, it will do so through its women.” (19)
A regular discourse in the pages of Gandhiji’s journals followed as he spoke of reform and village work.Dr S. Muthulakshmi Reddi wrote to Gandhiji in Young India,
Your observations on the urgent need for reforms and for a healthy change in the daily habits of our people, during your journey from Bezwada to Guntur, have appealed to me very much indeed.
I may humbly submit that I as a medical woman fully concur with you.But will you kindly permit me to say that if education is really going to bring in its train social reform; better sanitation, and improved public health, it is going to achieve this result only through the education of our women. (20)
Gandhiji’s immediate response to this letter was,
The root of the evil, however, lies far deeper than would appear on superficial observation.It is not the education merely of women that is at fault.It is the whole of our education system that is rotten.Again it is not this custom or that which needs condemnation , it is the inertia which refuses to move even in the face of an admitted evil that needs to be removed. (21)
Through the columns ofNavjivan, Harijan and Young India he talked of the customs and the laws oppressing women.There was a healthy exchange of correspondence between the editor and women on various issues affecting the lives of women.
To another correspondent he replied,
For the courage of self-sacrifice woman is any day superior to man, as I believe man is to woman for the courage of the brute.(22)
Gandhiji confronted the questions of child marriages, dowry, purdah, widowhood and prostitution amongst other issues.On a visit in response to a letter from a group of “Prostitutes” who had joined Congress, in Barisal, Gandhiji had this to say:
For me the two hours I passed with these sisters is a treasured memory.They told me that they were over 350 in the midst of a population of about 20,000 men women and children.….The credit of having thought of serving these sisters belongs to some young men of Barisal….
And so as a man I hung my head in shame before these hundred sisters.Some were elderly, most were between twenty and thirty and two or three were girls below twelve.….Their talk was dignified, their answers were clean and straight.And for the moment their determination was as firm as that of any satyagrahi.Eleven of them promised to give up their present life and take to spinning and weaving from the following day, if they received a helping hand.The others said they would take time to think, for they did not wish to deceive me.(23)
Gandhiji worked for the upliftment of these women and women generally through his journals and his meetings in the various cities of India.Among the many correspondents were also those who had married “prostitutes” and harijans as a mark of their sincerity and shared with him the challenges of these marriages.
Gandhiji was able in this way to mobilize many women all over India in working for Khadi.The spinning wheel gave a new form of occupation to people.Through the columns of his paper Gandhiji dealt with the many social evils that affected the lives of women.He wrote a lengthy letter to the women of India, printed in Young India. In it he referred to the work done in collecting foreign cloth which included expensive saris by the women.These clothes were burnt on the 31st July in Bombay.A further decision was takenfor the next burning to take place on the 30th September.He wrote
The women of India have during the past twelve months worked wonders on behalf of the motherland.You have silently worked away as angels of mercy.You have parted with your cash and your fine jewelry.You have wondered from house to house to make collections.Some of you have even assisted in picketing.….Yours is the purest sacrifice untainted by anger or hate.Let me confess to you that your spontaneous and loving response all over India has convinced me that God is with us.(24)
He went on to urge women to discard all the foreign cloth that they possessed and support the Swadeshi movement by buying only Khadi.In turn he promised that the Khadi was course and heavy at that time but within a few months they intended to improve their workmanship to improve the texture of Khadi.He invited them to give to it their own artistic talent to improve and decorate the cloth.He wrote:
There is an art that kills and an art that gives life.The fine fabric that we have imported from the West or the Far East has literally killed millions of our brothers and sisters and delivered thousands of our dear sisters to a life of shame.(25)
He not only called on them to discard the foreign cloth but also to take up spinning and encouraged them to organize competitions in order to improve the quality of the thread.This massive mobilization was done through his newspapers.
fMedia as a mobilizing tool
Gandhiji used the media effectively to mobilize communities both in South Africa and later in India.
In mobilising the community against the Government’s laws Gandhiji through the columns of Indian Opinion urged the community to break the law and seek arrest.He sited many examples from world history where people had put their lives at stake in defence of their cause.Gandhiji constantly attempted to seek the truth through his writings.He gave a clear succinct and truthful picture of events and issues:
The critic found very little to which he could object.In fact the tone of Indian Opinion compelled the critic to put a curb on his own pen.Satyagraha would probably have been impossible without Indian Opinion.The readers looked forward to it for a trustworthy account of the Satyagraha campaign as also of the real condition of Indians in South Africa. (26)
gThe Principle of interactive journalism:
Gandhiji made every attempt to make the paper an interactive paper where the community would make an input and be able to both learn and teach.He encouraged communal reading and discussion of the articles in the paper.In his autobiography he says:
For me it became a means for the study of human nature in all its casts and shades, as I always aimed at establishing an intimate and clean bond between the editor and readers.I was inundated with letters containing the outpourings of my correspondents’ hearts.They were friendly, critical or bitter, according to the temper of the writer. (27)
In order to get a popular and apt name for his campaign Gandhijithrough the columns of Indian Opinion ran a competition and offered a prize of 10 poundsfor a name to describe the resistance campaign; readers were encouraged to submit suggestions.The name Sadagraha came up from this competition.This means firmness in a good cause.But Gandhiji felt that it should be changed to Satyagraha or the force of truth, soul force or pursuit of truth.
Indian Opinion provided practical advice to the resisters, on what to do when arrested.Gandhiji spoke of the value of being imprisoned for defying unjust laws and those who were arrested were given due recognition by having their photographs published in Indian Opinion.
Gandhiji encouraged the Phoenix team to look for pictures and start a file of pictures that could be used in editions of the paper.During the Satyagraha campaign weekly news bulletins of the struggle were included and campaign instructions were issued.The subscribers’ list increased at this time.
Gandhiji published and explained the provisions of laws in the columns of Indian Opinion so that people could understand what they were objecting to.He gave detailed accounts of court cases where indentured workers and others were assaulted or ill-treated.The pages of the Indian Opinion week by week filled up with these cases and their outcomes.This served to inform the community of the nature of their difficulties.But it also kept the authorities on their toes.
Among others the case of ill treatment of workers were not only publicized but the cases were followed up until their conclusion.In this way the paper played a monitoring role on the judicial system.
Gandhiji also encouraged recreational activities among the residents of Phoenix.A football and cricket team was set up and Messrs G.H. Miankhan were thanked for the generous donation of a football and cricket set, through the columns of Indian Opinion.
The September 14, 1912 issue of Indian Opinion contained an article declaring the move to transfer the ownership of the paper from the sole proprietorship of Gandhiji to a Trust.Thus came about the Phoenix Settlement Trust.
After Gandhiji’s return to India for about two years the paper was edited by Mr West.In 1918 Gandhiji sent his 25 year old son Manilal Gandhi to run the paper.
hFinancing and advertisement
Initially the paper received its funds from sales, advertisements and from commercial printing done by the press.
However it was soon realized that this did not meet the running costs of the paper.During the first year of the paper Gandhiji contributed two thousand pounds.It was then that Gandhiji thought of a novel idea.Inspired by the Trappist monastery in Marianhill about which he wrote in Indian Opinion, he began to dream about a new way of life.Following on this visit on a trip from Johannesburg to Durban, Polak, a friend gave Gandhiji a book, Unto This Last, by Ruskin.He was so gripped by that book that he did not sleep on that journey but instead read the book from cover to cover.The book contained ideas of rural, egalitarian, communal life.While Gandhiji was still mulling over the effects of this book on him, he visited his relatives in Tongaat and saw vast tracts of land in the area.He immediately spoke to the workers in the Press about his idea of moving to a communal rural settlement.Some were keen but others like,Vyavaharikji felt that it was merely a pipe dream and dismissed the idea.
However having received support from a large number of people he immediately advertised for a piece of land near a railway station, and having a stream running through it.Within a few days he received a response and he went out with West to view the plot.It was a piece of land which he liked very much.It had a little stream running through it and a railway station nearby called the Phoenix Station.It had three neighbours,The large Rev. Isaiah Shembe community, The Dr John Langalibalele Dube Community and the Phoenix Barracks in which the sugar workers lived.He decided to buy it.There was a little wood and iron building on the property.The beauty of the landscape moved him.The plot comprisedof80 acres and Kallenbach, his friend, bought 20 acres adjoining it, and gave it over to be incorporated into the common property which they called Phoenix Settlement after the name of the Railway Station.The entire 100 acres of land later passed into the ownership of a Trust.It was situated in the magisterial district of Inanda, in the Piesang River County and formed part of a large tract of land called released area no.33.It was so named because it was undeclared for use by any specific population group.It was 14 miles away from Durban and approximately 2 and half miles from the Phoenix railway station.
With the help of the voluntary settlersa wood and iron building was put up to house the press. Bullock carts were hired and the machinery and equipment was transported from Durban to the farm.Those who worked in the Press were offered 2 acres of land each and an allowance of 3 pounds per month.They were also informed of their joint ownership of the press and the settlement.This was a novel idea.Many did not fully understand it but nevertheless agreed to come and live on the settlement.Some of course were unhappy and did not move to Phoenix.There were many families, mainly Indian and White, who moved in and dedicated their lives to the paper and the settlement.During the passive resistance many families of resisters also came to stay on the settlement as a place of shelter.
The families were urged to grow their own food and become self-sufficient.But their central focus was the work in the press.The first issue of Indian Opinion, printed at Phoenix, was produced on 24th December 1904.
Shri Mansukhlal Hiralal Nazar, a journalist from Bombay was appointed the first editor in 1903 and he served in this post until he passed away in January 1906.After Shri Nazar’s demise, Mr West, who owned a Press in Johannesburg, agreed to move to Phoenix and run Indian Opinion.Mr. Kitchin, an electrician also joined the Press but disagreed with the defiance movement and left.Mr. Polak also wrote extensively for the paper, and helped with editing and administration work.Manilal Gandhi, Gandhiji’s second son was sent from India to take over the editorship of the paper in around 1918, and after his death in 1956, Sushila Gandhi, his wife took over the editorship and ran the paper with the help of Jordan Ngubane until 1963 when because of the oppressive laws of the apartheid government the paper was forced to close down.
An article published in 1912 in Indian Opinion spoke of the financial difficulties experienced by the Press.In this article Gandhijiexpressed his views about advertisements:
We have also come to the conclusion that consistently with our ideals, we could not accept advertisements for paying our way.We believe that the system of advertisement is bad in itself, in that it sets up insidious competition, to which we are opposed, and often lends itself to misrepresentation on a large scale: and that, if we may not use this journal for the purpose of supporting us entirely, we have no right to cater for and use our time in setting up advertisements.We have always used our discrimination and rejected many advertisements, which we could not conscientiously take.
Our friends and well wishers, who have hitherto extended their support to us, will not, we hope take it amiss if we discontinue the practice of inserting advertisements. (28)
Again in a letter to Mr. A.H. West dated 17 July 1919 Gandhiji writes,
I still retain the view I held there and the more I see of the jobbery that goes on here, the indiscriminate manner in which advertisements are taken the more I think how these advertisements, etc. are nothing but an insidious method of indirect voluntary taxation, how all these debases journalism and how it makes of it a business concern, I feel more and more convinced of the rightness of my view. (29)
Gandhiji was opposed to consumerism.He himself began to cut down his needs to the basic minimum.On his demise he had only a handful of possessions.Poverty in Gandhiji’s view is caused because people want to amass and thereby one deprives other people from access to basic necessities of life.It was for this reason that he felt that advertising goods was only encouraging people to buy something that they do not really need.While at the beginning he set down some rules about what was acceptable advertisement, he later felt that advertisements generally were harmful.They were a sales gimmick. However, Indian Opinion did publish a few advertisements during the different epochs.
Yet the whole question of the use of advertisements in the financing ofpublications needs to be carefully considered because dependency also leads to control over editorial content.
While in London Gandhiji made every effort at gaining proficiency in the English language but in Hind Swaraj he talks about a return to his own language.The book was written in Gujarati and later translated into English.Use of own language helps to build self-respect and confidence.His English text he maintained was not for literary scholars but for the ordinary people and hence his language was simple and easy to understand
As Gandhiji’s ideas crystalised, he began to place greater emphasis on the need for the use of the vernacular.He writes,
The editing of Navjivan has been a perfect revelation to me.Whilst Young India has little more than 1,200 subscribers, Navjivan has 12,000.The number would leap to 20,000 if it would but get printer to print that number.It shows that a vernacular newspaper is a felt want.I am proud to think that I have numerous readers among farmers and workers. They make India… (30)
Again on this issue he writes in the Gujerati edition of Indian Opinion dated31st December 1913,
The Satyagraha campaign, as carried on this time and still continuing, has hardly a parallel in history.The real credit for this goes to the Hindi and Tamil speaking brothers and sisters living in this country.Their sacrifice has been the highest of all.Some of them have even lost their lives; killedby the bullets of the white soldiers.As a tribute to their memory, we have decided to give Hindi and Tamil news in this paper.Some years ago , we used to bring out this paper in these two languages as well, but we had to discontinue the practice owing to some difficulties.(31)
Until 1914 Gandhiji maintained a close watch on the paper and consistently wrote for the paper.For the two years after Gandhiji left South Africa Mr Westalmost single handedly brought out the paperuntil, in 1916,Gandhiji’s second son, Manilal, took up the reins.He was 23 years old at the time. He received constant supervision and advice from Gandhiji.
jThe Importance of Truth in Journalism
In a letter to Manilal Gandhi, Gandhiji wrote,
You should write what is the truth in Indian Opinion; but do not be impolite and do not give way to anger.Be moderate in your language.If you err, do not hesitate to confess it(32)
But what is “Truth” in journalism?Bhattacharayajiexplains,
What is truth in journalism?How does it differ from accuracy?Are they the same thing?Truth is not only a question of knowledge.It means more.It means the balancing of judgment in a most disinterested manner.It may be achieved in a weekly; but it is very difficult to be truthful in the daily newspaper.When we consider the condition in which it is produced, the number of agencies through which the news passes, and the speed with which it is gathered from all parts of the world, translated, transmitted, selected, sub-edited, and printed. (33)
Yet journalism is not neutral, reporting is not neutral.There is always a motive behind the reporting, behind the selection of stories, behind the prioritizing of stories and the headlines they receive,and so the important issue even for daily news reporters is to be able to become self conscious aware of own feelings and biases and guard against them being transmitted into the stories they select, the priorities they give and the headlines they choose.
A further landmark in the formation of Gandhian ideals was the creation of the Phoenix Settlement Trust Deed.In the Gujarati edition of the Indian Opinion of 4th September 1912, the following was printed:
It is more than seven years ago that this journal began to be printed at Phoenix.We are now taking a step forward.So far the legal proprietor has been Mr. Gandhi, but the ownership is now being transferred to (a board of) Trustees, and the objectives, which will govern the management of Phoenix, have been precisely laid down.We feel this is a step in the right direction and we are sure our readers will feel the same.
The paper has never been in a position to pay its way….(34)
An explanation was then given of the new format of the paper and the decision not to accept advertisements or other commercial jobs.This decision however had to be reversed in later years, but with the proviso that only selected adverts would be taken, and these would be those that do not contradict any of the principles on which the Settlement was based such as cigarettes and alcohol advertisements.
During the 40 years of editorship, Manilal Gandhi published many stories of importance and wrote many articles advocating nonviolence and explaining the theory of Satyagraha.
Among the most important articles were his call to the Industrial and Commercial Union to adhere to nonviolent action, a glowing account of the Kliptown Congress of the People, where the Freedom Charter was drawn up, and which he attended.He published articles on the conditions in prison after serving a sentence for defying the laws by illegally entering an African Township.The paper continued to cover events of interest to the community and the paper continued to be published in two languages, English and Gujerati.Sometimes articles written by Manilal Gandhi were published in the Ilanga Lase Natal, and sometimes articles of interest from the Ilanga Lase were printed in the Indian Opinion.The Ilanga Lase was sometimes printed at the International Printing Press.
Indian Opinion’s singular importance waned as a result of the emergence of other newspapers, alternate papers such as Indian Views, The Leader and papers brought out by the liberation movement such as New Age and Flash.
All through the history ofIndian Opinion there were two important strands: one the mobilization of a dedicated team of workers who produced the paper, and two the mobilization of the community through interactive journalism, between the editor and the readers.Gandhiji consistently set out a clear policy and purpose for every paper that he started or edited.
lGandhiji’s other newspapers:
In 1919 the Rowlatt Bill was introduced in India, making it a criminal offence to publish or even possess a “seditious document”.As a protest against this Bill, Gandhiji started an unregistered weekly called Satyagraha.In the same year Horniman, editor of the Bombay Chronicle was deported and Gandhiji was offered editorship of this paper.Herejected this offer and instead accepted editorship of Young India, started by a group of young Gujeratis,and later also accepted the editorship of Navjivan ane Satya (Young life and truth).Hewrote,
…newspapers, if otherwise well edited, can become a most powerful vehicle for transmitting pure ideas in a concise manner. (35)
In 1917 Gandhiji was taken to Champaran by a farmer, Rajkumar Shukla, to see the plight of the ryots on the indigo farms.He exposed the conditions of the workers through the creative use of media.The exposure and the agitation eventually led to a commission of enquiry and confrontation with the group of white farmers.
In February 1933, after objecting to a dual system based on caste, proposed by the British,the first edition of Harijan was published in response to the problems of the untouchables, particularly in rural areas.The paper dwelt on the social question of caste in India and emphasized mainly rural issues.This paper was aimed at the masses of India and was published in many languages.It raised the issues of religion and called on the community to reject the notion of the caste system.
During his lifetime he published hundreds of books on various subjects ranging from social and environmental issues to politics and the economy.This illustrates the fact that Gandhiji while being a non violent activist , a politician and leader of standing was also an adept writer and journalist.His views on journalism are important and relevant even today.
The true function of journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock the public mind with wanted and unwanted impressions. (36)
Mahatma Gandhi utilised the media in creative ways through out his adult life and in his many pronouncements he spoke about the role of media and of journalists.
Gandhiji’s view on writing has been documented thoroughly by Prof. S.N. Bhattacharya.Acritique ofhis style of writing also enables a deeper understanding ofhis concept of the media.He certainly creates a unique and very relevant approach to writing.An interesting story quoted by Prof.. Bhattacharya illustrates Gandhiji’s views on sensational writing,
In one of the Voyages to England, his fellow passengers formed a club called “Billy Boats” and published a sheet, “Scandal Times”.The name suggested the materials in it and they brought an issue to Gandhiji and asked for his opinion of it.He took the sheet, extracted the pin which fastened the leaves and told them that he had taken the most precious thing from the sheets. (37)
Various authors have often highlighted Gandhiji’s wit and humour.An important issue that is raised by Gandhiji is the question of self-regulation.He consistently raised issues facing the media, some of which are being documented here as a summary of Gandhian ideas towards a code for nonviolent journalism.
1.Financing of media:
Gandhiji was very much opposed to accepting financial aid.He felt that even if a paper was simple and not glamorous, even if it was merely cyclostyled it was a service to the community and the community must support it.
He believed that the financing of media essentially led to corporate control over it and maintained that it was important that the independence of the paper was in no way compromised.He was critical of media which were financed by corporations and which were then forced to write in a way that is prescribed by the financier.
Gandhiji was also opposed to accepting advertisements to finance a paper.He maintained that advertisers induced people to buy items that were in fact harmful to them, thus being guilty of giving false information. The actual effect ofadvertising on the public was unacceptable as it induced people to buy items even if they did not need them.This was contrary to his belief in a simple way of life.He advocated that each one shouldtake only that which is needed and necessary and no more.Advertisements made people buy things that they did not need.He felt that a newspaper should not encourage such a practice.
Gandhiji was totally opposed to sensational reporting.He felt that people needed to be guided by the newspaper and not misguided.Sensational reporting only led to misguidance.It also was unsympathetic and hence did not achieve the purpose of rehabilitation but rather pushing people further into anti social behaviour.He felt that there was need for diligence and scrutiny before reporting. Every piece of information should be carefully checked out and the truth found and reported.He favoured investigative journalism.
He did not believe in character assassination as seen in many of the sensational media but rather treating human beings with respect and dignity.Separate the person from the deed.Condemn the deed but not the person.
Gandhiji maintained that there was need for impartiality and objectivity.He advocated that a journalist should always maintain an objective attitude.This required strict discipline, and reading and re- reading the work before submission.
This would ensure that any prejudice that might have crept in and any harshness that might appear must be checked and removed.
He also advocated self control in terms of hate speech.Gandhiji maintained that it was extremely important to exert the utmost self control when writing.He admitted that this was a difficult task and spoke of the number ofagonizing hours he spent to ensure that his final product was impartial, free of anger or hate and balanced.
He advocated that there must always be a purpose for reporting.He maintained that there was always a reason behind the writing of every story.But often this reason was hidden or the writer did not become conscious of it until afterit was printed.Therefore it was essential that the question why is it necessary to publish such a story is asked before writing and before publishing.This was for himanimportant question and should be asked every time one decided to publish a story.
He emphasized the need for journalists to become aware of the influence of the stories they write on the community.He stressed the importance of asking the question, “What effect will the story have on the reader?” before writing the story.He was of the opinion that such an awareness would help people watch the kind of language they use and also curb the tendency to write sensational and horror stories.
Gandhiji repeatedly emphasised the need for discipline and morality in every aspect of life.He consistently looked for a balance between the fundamental right to information with the right offreedom of expression.
The public has a right to know what is happening.Journalists have the right and the duty to report on what is happening.The question that is of importance is how can the reporting be informed by ethics and above all how can the reporting be impartial, truthful, balanced, non sectarian, and serve a useful purpose.Keeping information away from people is not what was advocated.In fact, Gandhiji says:
In the very first month of Indian Opinion, I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be service.The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole country-sides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control.It can be profitable only when exercised from within. (38)
Gandhiji felt that it was important for journalists themselves to draw up such codes and charters in order that there is acceptance and agreement on it.He also further advocated the need for self control in writing, so that personal emotions and prejudices do not influence the writing.
These are important guidelines for journalists to consider.They also reveal the need for both the development of a code of conduct for journalists, anda charter on the ethical issues that inform journalism.
7.Opposed to control from the Government.
When in India the Indian Press Act was first promulgated Gandhiji came out with a journal called Satyagraha, which was sold for 1 pice, (less than a cent)
In the first issue dated 7th April he writes:
This paper has not been registered according to law.So there can be no annual subscription.Nor can it be guaranteed that the paper will be published without interruption.
The editor is liable at any moment to be arrested by the Government and it is impossible to ensure continuity of Publication until India is in the happy position of supplying editors enough to take the place of those arrested.We shall leave no stone unturned to secure a ceaseless succession of editors. (39)
Defiance broke out all over India.There were strikes, marches and demonstrations and soon the bloodymassacre of Jallianwala Bagtook place.Gandhiji was astounded at the brutality and immediately called off the mass action.
He writes in the first edition of Young India
A word as to the policy of Young India.Apart from its duty ofdrawing attention to injustices to individuals, it will devote its attention to constructive “Satyagraha” as also sometimes cleansing “Satyagraha”.Cleansing “Satyagraha is a civil resistance where civil resistance becomes a duty to remove a persistent and degrading injustice such as the Rowlatt Act.(40)
In Young India, which printed the manifesto of Freedom of Opinion, Gandhiji writes:
….it is the inherent right of every one to express his opinion
without restraint about the propriety of citizens offering their
services to or remaining in the employ of the Government…. (41)
He went on to say:
.…I believe that an editor who has anything worth saying and who commands a clientele cannot be easily hushed so long as his body is left free.(42)
When the government came out with Acts that suppressed the freedom of the press, Gandhiji suggested the use of hand-written pamphlets rather than to succumb to the government.He says:
…..Let us use the machine and the type whilst we can give unfetteredexpression to our thought.
But let us not feel helpless when they are taken away from us by a paternal government watching andcontrolling every combination of types and other movements of theprinting machine. (43)
Following this idea, when The Independent was asked for a security deposit under the new Press Act, it changed into a hand-written cyclostyled sheet with the motto, “I change , but I cannot die”
8.Responsibility in reporting:
In Young India Gandhiji writes,
I have taken to journalism not for its sake but merely as an aid to what I have conceived to be my mission in life.My mission is toteach by example and precept under severe restraint the use of matchless weapon of “Satyagraha” which is a direct corollary of non violence and truth.I am anxious, indeed I am impatient, to demonstrate that there is no remedy for the many ills of life save thatof non violence.It is a solvent strong enough to melt the stoniestheart.To be true to my faith, therefore, I may not write in anger ormalice.I may not write idly.I may not write merely to excitepassion.The reader can have no idea of the restraint I have toexercise from week to week in the choice of topics on my vocabulary.It is a training for me.It enables me to peep into myself and to make discoveries of my weaknesses.Often my vanity dictates a smartexpression or my anger a harsh adjective.It is a terrible ordeal but a fine exercise to remove these weeds.The reader sees the pages ofYoung India fairly well dressed up and sometimes, with Romain Rolland,he is inclined to say “what a fine old man he must be”.Well, let the world understand that the fineness is carefully andprayerfully cultivated. (44)
After India gained its independence, the new constitution gave the right to freedom of speech and expression.A Press Commission was set up, which states:
In their memorandum to us, the All-India Newspaper Editor’sConference have said that journalism should strive to inform the people of current events and trends of opinion, to create and sustain an ever widening range of interest and to encourage discussion of current problems with due regard to all points of view, all of which involves accurate and impartial presentation of news and views and dispassionate evaluation of conflicting ideals.The Indian federation of working journalists have emphasized the need for constant and conscious striving to distinguish between fact and comment, to present objectively and fully all the news that is fit to print, to give impartially news of interest to all sections of the community, to maintain high standards of public taste and national culture to support and promote public cause and to foster a due sense of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.(45)
Gandhiji was a journalist and spoke from his own experience on the field when he says:
The sole aim of journalism should be service.The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control.It can be profitable only when exercised from within.If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the journals in the world would stand the test?But who should be the judge?The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make the choice. (46)
But Gandhiji was tremendously disillusioned with the Indian Press during the communal uprising in India.He says about modern journalism,
The superficiality, the one-sidedness, the inaccuracy and, often, even dishonesty that have crept into modern journalism, continuously mislead honest men (and women) who want to see nothing but justice done.
I have before me extracts from journals containing some gruesome things.There is communal incitement, gross misrepresentation and incitement to political violence bordering on murder.It is, of course, easy enough for the Government to launch out prosecutions or to pass repressive ordinances.These fail to serve the purpose intended except very temporarily, and in no case do they convert the writers, who often take to secret propaganda, when the open forum of the Press is denied to them.
The real remedy is healthy public opinion that will refuse to patronise poisonous journals.(47)
Gandhiji further says
Literature, full of the virus of self-indulgence, and served out in attractive forms, is flooding our country from the West and there is the greatest need for our youth to be on their guard.The present is for them an age of transition of ideals and ordeals; the one thing needful for the world, its youth and particularly the youth of India in this crisis, is Tolstoy’s progressive self-restraint, for it alone can lead to true freedom for themselves, the country and the world. (48)
9.Responsibility towards the community:
Responsibility towards the community among other things should be high up on the code.Some key questions in this regard are:What effect will the report have on other people?Will it help to create a better society or will it have the effect of more corruption, more crime, more evasions and violence?How can the report help to enhance the community’s position?Will it help to build a peaceful society?Will it in any way enrich the poorest of the poor?Does it harm a single person?Are my own biases contained in the report?
By becoming aware of these questions restraint can be imposed on one’s self in order to produce a piece ofresponsible writing.Everyone has a mission, everyone has a philosophy.There is some element of subjectivity and bias in all reporting.The need is to keep these elements to a minimum in favour of higher ideals of responsibility.
10Control over Emotions:
Anger malice and other emotions tend to have a negative effect on writing.While one cannot be completely impartial there is a need to exert self-control on personal emotions.Where there is too much subjectivity the writing becomes one sided and totally biased.By exerting self control, a journalist allows for greater objectivity to emerge.In his writings quoted in this book Gandhiji clearly illustrates the need for awareness of the emotions within one’s self and the need to exert self control.
11.Writing to empower the disadvantaged:
Empowerment of disadvantaged people is an important value that Gandhiji has consistently espoused.He advised his co workers that the talisman for making a decision is to ask yourself whether whatever you are planning will in any way enhance the life of the poorest of the poor.If the answer is positive then one should go ahead with full enthusiasm but if the answer is negative than one should stop and review the decision.
12.Writing to Educate
Education should be the central concern of journalism.Newspapers should help to develop an understanding in the reader of what is happening around him or her.It must also help to develop critical thinking through offering different view points.
13.Writing as a mobilising tool
A powerful newspaper can not only provide information to the readers but also help them to move into action to assert themselves.The power of the written word can be best illustrated by the way in which the lives of some of the great leaders of the world have been influenced by their reading.
History records a number of turning points in the lives of these leaders of our times.Many of these leaders have acknowledged the tremendous effect certain books have had on their lives.Gandhiji for instance was deeply influenced by what he read, and says
Of these books, the one that brought about an instantaneous and practical transformation in my life was Unto This Last.I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin, (49)
He came to South Africa an ordinary lawyer in his twenties, seeking work and having come here, he began a journey in which he was deeply influenced by the circumstances of life in South Africa but the real turning point in his life style came about as a result ofRuskin’sUnto this Last.Gandhijitransformed himself from a successful lawyer, to a simple rural farmer, an educator and a political activist.He gave up a life of luxury to follow his ideals and became one of the world’s greatest icons - a Mahatma.This illustrates the power that writing has on people.
14.Conscious adherence to Truth:
Truth is perhaps a cornerstone of the Gandhian message for journalistsTruth is important but truth can be distorted by the way in which it is presented or by giving a one sided version, or by being simply untruthful.At issue is the question-“Am I writing that which I believe to be the absolute truth or am I choosing to report selectively to convey a message that I wish to convey?”These questions will help to establish a more objective approach.The quest for the truth is not an easy task.What appears to be the truth to one maybe something else to another.
So there is a need to look at different perspectives through investigation and research, but above all by self awareness and self restraint.
15.Awareness of the difference between perception and reality:
There has always been a dilemma between perception and reality.There is a fine line between the two and this can only be removed by training, research and objectivity.Emotion, own beliefs and prejudices, influences a person’s vision and hence perceptions appear as reality.Every fact and every event can draw a different imagery in the minds of different people.It thus becomes a perception and not necessarily the whole truth or reality.Consciousness and awareness of this possibility helps in understanding that what is perceived is not necessarily the whole truth and that thereneeds to be greater research and investigation to be able to clarify the vision.
A.S. Iyengar, as quoted in Bhattacharyaji’s book, says:
There was not only a new thought but a new language in newspaper writing and what he wrote was the best in political thought and finest in journalistic writings.No editor could escape being influenced by Gandhiji’s writings.(50[i])
1. S.N. Bhattacharya, Mahatma Gandhi The JournalistAsia Publishing House Bombay 1965 p.82
2M.K.Gandhi, My Experiments With TruthNavjivan Press p.74
3Ibid p. 158
4Ibid p. 159
6ibid p. 163
7op cit p.6
9.ibid p. 10
10Ibid p. 8
11 M.K. Gandhi Hind Swaraj Navjivan Press p. 20
13 Ibid P. 36
14 Ibid p. 53
15Ibid p. 59
16Nilam Parikh Gandhiji’s Lost Jewel Naional Gandhi Museum 2001p. 17
17M.K. Gandhi Women And Social InjusticeNavjivan Press 1958 p 104
18Ibid p. 5
19Ibid p. v
22 Ibid p. 21
23Ibid p. 129
24 Ibid p. 131
26M.K. Gandhi My Experiments With Truth p. 239
27 Ibid p. 239
28Indian Opinion 14September 1912
29Bhattacharya p. 32
31IO 31 December 1913
32Bhattacharya p. 42
33Ibid p. 73
34Ibid p. 25
35DG Tandulkar Mahatma 1953 p 247
36Op Cit P. 82
37Ibid p. 83
38Gandhi My Experiments With Truth p. 239
39Bhattacharya p. 34
40 Ibid p. 38
41 Ibid 43
43Ibid p, 43
45R.K. Parbhu and U.R. Rao The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi 1046-48 p. 39
46Op Cit p. 83
47Ibid p. 159
48Krishna Kriplani All Men are Brothers 1956 p. 225
49Gandhi My Experiments With Truth p. 150
50 Bhattacharya p. 93