Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lessons from Gandhi on Journalism and Civility

I remember years back when I first read Gandhi's autobiography the passage below where Gandhi discusses journalism had an impact on me. I think it has more relevance now for everybody, individuals, media and the well meaning activists.

What is remarkable is complete absence of rancor and hatred in almost all correspondence I have come across from Bapu. It did have an impact in upholding the dignity and the civility of the movement and the discourse. Note Bapu's own words "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."  It is sometimes very disappointing to see even the well meaning activists resort to rancor and slogans. I do not think it does the cause any good.

Also what is very apparent if we study Gandhi's movement is the extensive open communication he maintained through the various journals he edited. You sort of knew his position on the issues of the day. This was at the start of early 20th century. So it is rather surprising in 21st century in the age of twitter and blogs, we (particularly Indians) are sometimes clueless on what their leaders really think and feel. Some like Rahul Gandhi claim to have a genuine interest in change, but it will be hard to know him well when he has never taken the pains to formally communicate in a structured way. Even the activist movements will benefit if they have a more organized, structured  and inclusive way to communicate and form opinions.

Below is the passage from Gandhi's autobiography:

During ten years, that is, until 1914, excepting the intervals of my enforced rest in prison, there was hardly an issue of Indian Opinion without an article from me. I cannot recall a word in those articles set down without thought or deliberation, or a word of conscious exaggeration, or anything merely to please. Indeed the journal became for me a training in self-restraint, and for friends a medium through which to keep in touch with my thoughts.

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. 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 the 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. It was a fine education for me to study, digest and answer all this correspondence. It was as though the community thought audibly through this correspondence with me. It made me thoroughly understand the responsibility of a journalist, and the hold I secured in this way over the community made the future campaign workable, dignified and irresistible. 

Indian Opinion in those days, like Young India and Navajivan today, was a mirror of part of my life. Week after week I poured out my soul in its columns, and expounded the principles and practice of Satyagraha as I understood it.

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 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 would stop those that are useless? And who 
should be the judge? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on 
together, and man must make his choice. 

1 comment:

Siddharth Ranjan said...

15 May 2012:

For more than a year this remains to be the last post! Time we stirred ourselves and posted some other nuggets from the life & times of the Mahatma!