Dialogue July-September, 2010, Volume 12 No.1
Mahatma Gandhi on Journalists and Journalism some excerpts from his writings*
My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words. I have naturally formed the habit of restraining my thoughts. And I can now give myself the certificate that a thoughtless word hardly ever escapes my tongue or pen. I do not recollect ever having had to regret anything in my speech or writings. I have thus, been spared many a mishap and waste of time.
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. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of the journals of the world stand the test? But who would stop those that are useless? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together and man must make his choice.
There can be no room for untruth in my writings, because it is my unshakable belief that there is no religion other than truth and because I am capable of rejecting thought obtained at the cost of truth.
My writings cannot but be free from hatred towards any individual because it is my firm belief that it is love that sustains the earth.
I have taken up journalism not for its sake but merely as an aid to what I have conceived to be my mission in life. My mission is to teach by example and precept under severe restraint the use of the matchless weapon of Satyagraha, which is a direct corollary of non-violence and truth... To be true to my faith therefore, I may not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion.
The reader can have no idea of the restraint I have to exercise from week to week in the choice of topics and 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 smart expression or my anger a harsh adjective. It is a terrible ordeal but a fine exercise to remove these weeds.
I write just as the spirit moves me at the time of writing. I do not claim to know definitely that all conscious thought and action on my part are directed by the Spirit. But, on an examination of the greatest steps that I have taken in my life, as also of those that may be regarded as the least I think it will not be improper to say that all of them were directed by the Spirit.
As for giving ideas, I have some originality. But writing is a by product; I write to propagate my ideas. Journalism is not my profession.
What I have done will endure, not what I have said or written.
The true function of journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock the public mind with wanted and unwanted impressions.
A journalist has, therefore, to use his discretion as to what to report and when. As it is, journalists are not content to stick to facts alone. Journalism has become the art of ‘intelligent anticipation of events’.
The superficiality, the one-sidedness, the inaccuracy and often, even, dishonesty that have crept into modern journalism continuously mislead honest men 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, esay enough for the government to launch out prosecutions or 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 patronize poisonous journals... Freedom of the Press is a precious privilege that no country can forgo.
But if there is, as there should be, no legislative check save of the mildest character, an internal check, such as I have suggested, should not be impossible and ought not to be resented.
I hold that it is wrong to conduct newspapers by the aid of...immoral advertisements. I do believe that, if advertisements should be taken at all, there should be rigid censorship instituted by newspaper proprietors and editors themselves and that only healthy advertisements should be taken.
The evil of immoral advertisements is overtaking even what are known as the most respectable newspapers and magazines. That evil has to be combated by refining the conscience of the newspaper proprietors and editors. That refinement cannot come through the influence of an amateur editor like myself, but it will come when their own conscience is roused to recognition of the growing evil or when it is superimposed upon them by a government representing the people and caring for the people's morals.
Newspapers and Truth
In the East as in the West, newspapers are fast becoming the people's Bible, Koran, Zend Avesta and the Bhagawad Gita, rolled into one. All that appears in the papers is looked upon as God's truth.
I deprecate the habit of borrowing opinions from newspapers. Newspapers should be for the study of facts. They should not be allowed to kill the habit of independent thinking. I hold it to be the duty of newspapermen to give nothing but facts to their readers.
Power of the Press
The Press is called the Fourth Estate. It is definitely a power; but to misuse that power is criminal. I am a journalist myself and shall appeal to fellow journalists to realize their responsibility and to carry on their work with no idea other than that of upholding the truth.
Newspapers are a powerful influence. It is the duty of the editors to see that no false report or report likely to excite the public is published in their newspapers...
The editors and their assistants have to be extra careful about the news they give and the manner in which they dress it.
In a state of independence, it is practically impossible for the governments to control the Press. It is the duty of the public to keep a strict watch on the newspapers and to keep them on the right path. An enlightened public will refuse to patronize inflammatory or indecent newspapers.
For them, (the people) the printed sheet is Gospel truth. The fact throws a great responsibility on the editors and news writers.
I myself never swear by newspaper reports and will warn readers of newspapers not to be easily affected by stories reported therein. Not even the best of them are free from exaggeration and embellishment.
*Source : The book, “The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi” edited by : Sarvashri R.K. Prabhu & U.R. Rao and published by Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad-14
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