Monday, April 12, 2010
Gandhi and lessons for Fiji
Mahatma Gandhi and Liberty of the Press: Lesson for Fiji
By VICTOR LAL
In 1889, the British led Government of India published an Amendment in the Indian Official Secrets Act of 1889, coinciding with Mahatma Gandhi’s own newspaper The Indian Opinion in South Africa. Though his contemporaries in India were facing various repressive measures under Press Acts, Gandhi was not, during his entire stay in South Africa, handicapped in running his paper.
The great Russian pacifist, Leo Tolstoy’s letter to Gandhi – Letter to a Hindoo – was published in the Indian Opinion. It was reproduced in the journal Gujarat Patra of Nadiad, a town on Gujarat. A notice under the Indian Penal Code was served on the journal by the repressive Government of India. In the Gujarati edition of the Indian Opinion of 9 April 1910, Gandhi mentioned about this and said: “It is not a little surprising, though it does not contain a single sentence which can promote violence, the person who reproduced it is being prosecuted (echoes of Contempt of Court proceedings and fine and suspended prison sentence by Justice Hickie against Fiji Times and Netani Rika).
"This betrays sheer madness on the part of the officers…Our only regret is that though ours is the primary responsibility for publishing this letter, nothing is done to us and it its editor of Gujarat who is in danger. We hope that the editor and the manager of Gujarat will do their duty fearlessly and not retract a single step.”
Gandhi also mentioned about the “Repressive Laws” in India for “Suppression of Writings” and cautioned: “Indiscriminate suppression of newspapers by the Government will not ensure peace…True, the letter gave a vivid account of the harm done by the British Rule. That thought cannot be erased by suppressing writings.” Gandhi was not quite sure what to do under the circumstances. He said: “Will our readers be intimidated by these developments or will they do their duty? That is what remains to be seen.”
In the Gujarati edition of the Indian Opinion of 23 April 1919, Gandhi wrote an article under the caption ‘Journalist’s Duty’. He referred to the case against Gujarat Patra and asked: “What should an editor do when something he has published displeases the Government or is held to violate some law but is none the less true? Should be apologise? We should say, certainly not. True, he is not bound to publish such matter, but once it has been published, the editor ought to accept responsibility for it.”
But Gandhi qualified his statement and said: “This raises a very important issue. If the principle we have laid down is correct, it follows that if any provocative writing has been published unintentionally and no apology is offered for the same, the newspaper will in consequence be prevented from rendering other services as well and the community will go without that benefit. We would not therefore, apply this principle to matter published unintentionally, but it should apply to what is published after full deliberation.
"If a newspaper runs into difficulties for publishing any such matter, we think the closing down of the newspaper will be a better service to the public. The argument that in that case one may have to face the confiscation of all one’s property and be reduced to poverty has no force. Such a contingency may certainly arise, and it was precisely for this reason that we said that the editor of a journal devoted to public service must be ever ready for death.”
He gave one obvious illustration: “Suppose that Government has committed a gross injustice and robbed the poor. A progressive newspaper is being published in such a place. It writes against the oppressive measure and advises people to disregard the unjust law of the Government. The Government takes offence and threatens confiscation of property if no apology is forthcoming. Should the reformer apologise?
"We think the reply is again the same; that he should stand the confiscation of his property and close down the newspaper but certainly not offer an apology. The people would then see that, if the reformer could lose his all for their sake, they should also in their own interest oppose the law…The best service that the reformer can render will be to stop the newspaper.”
Editor's Note: To be continued