Tasks for the Press

By Jawaharlal Nehru

From an address to the All-India Newspaper Editors’ Conference, New Delhi, August 13, 1954

Often in your conferences and your resolutions you discuss what is called the freedom of the Press. You take exception to any restrictions being imposed on this freedom. You are justified, of course, in doing so because the freedom of the Press is not only included in the various freedoms in our Constitution, but, if I may say so, it is an actuality in our country. I have often wondered what exactly is meant by freedom of the Press or anybody else’s. The more I have thought about it, the more I have become convinced that there is no such thing as abstract freedom. 

Freedom is always accompanied by responsibility. Freedom always entails an obligation, whether it is a nation’s freedom or an individual’s freedom or a group’s freedom or the freedom of the Press. Therefore, whenever we consider the question of freedom, we must also inevitably consider the responsibility that goes with freedom. If there is no responsibility and no obligation attached to it, freedom gradually withers away. This is true of a nation’s freedom and it applies as much to the Press as to any other group, organization or individual. It is in this integrated way that I would like you and others to think of the freedom of the Press. After all, this question belongs to the broad field of tolerance of thought and expression which is part of a democratic set-up. There is a thought which has occurred to me—that even the freedom of the Press might sometimes curb this expression of thought, and that it might rather terrorize, limit and regiment the public to some extent. This question therefore cannot be considered as an abstract formula, but is to be looked at in all its various aspects.

Our Constitution is an expression of the democratic urge which permeated our Constituent Assembly. The Constitution embodies Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of Policy which assure many types of freedom. Our State is a secular State which gives equal opportunity to every group, every part of the country, every State, province and area. Nevertheless, you will agree with me that some parts of the Press at any rate, instead of stressing these aspects of our Constitution and of our outlook, stress a disruptive and separatist communal aspect. I would beg of you to consider whether in doing so they are actively helping this freedom of thought and expression. I want you to recognize and put before the public our great achievements in India. Sometimes you do it but sometimes you are too wrapped up in local problems.

It is not enough to talk of political unity. We must have something deeper than that. We must have emotional unity, which does away with provincial barriers, with caste barriers or communal or religious barriers. Only then can you talk about a really unified India. Only then can you achieve that broad tolerance of thought and expression which you lay stress on when you speak of the freedom of the Press. We shall need it more and more in our general relations between different groups and different parts.

We criticize and condemn communalism because it is the very opposite of the conception of broad tolerance and of India’s emotional unity. Another phase of communalism is casteism. I do not think we have given sufficiently intensive thought to the removal of this scourge and curse of casteism. We have taken it for granted and sometimes I fear we have even encouraged caste for fear of losing the vote of one caste or another. So far as I am concerned I am prepared to lose every election in India but to give no quarter to communalism or casteism. Our fight will be relatively easy if our newspapers throw themselves into the fray on the right side. It will be helpful if they at least keep away from the wrong side, which some of them will not do. Perhaps they think that a sensational way of presenting things appeals to the people and enhances their circulation. It may; I am no judge of it.

But I claim to be a judge of the Indian people and I claim to be a better judge of them than any editor in India. I tell you I know them better because—it is rather a foolish way of saying it—I am intensely in love with them, because I have approached them with affection, because they have been most generous, extravagantly generous in their affection for me and I have the highest opinion of the Indian people. I think it is degrading to them to imagine that they require sensationalism of the type that appeals to the palate or excites passions.

Of course, they are not angels. All of us have our faults. We have our evil side and our good side. But I am quite sure that there is a very great deal of the good side in the Indian people, and if we appeal to it we shall always get the right response. 

If our newspapers keep this in view and appeal to the good side, they will help in the emotional integration of India. They will thus do a great service. Let us think not only of our past common heritage, but of the India that we are building up which will also be a common heritage of all of us. I would submit to the editors that through this service to the people they will ultimately be serving themselves also. 

I do not mean by this that I am in any way suggesting that you should stop criticizing Governmental measures or the activities of politicians. I do not wish to come in the way, legislatively or otherwise, of the widest criticism or even condemnation of Governmental policy. Of course you will give me freedom to reply, and reply not merely in the Chambers of Parliament but in the market place, in the field and amongst the common people. We should have criticism; it is essential, provided it is bonafide criticism, and not sensationalism or something that verges on vulgarity. I have often wondered whether freedom of expression implies all kinds of vulgar and obscene approaches. My idea of freedom does not include them. Degradation of the public taste is terrible. We have to oppose it.

Of the dominating features of the age we live in, one of the most noticeable is that people are gradually losing the art of thinking. They often take other people’s opinions for granted. They are regimented, not only in states that are called totalitarian but in other countries also, by the conditions they live in. They are not allowed to think, and the person who does not fit in with the majority opinion, has a very unfortunate time of it. There is no law against him, but the facts are against him. 

In this matter the newspapers can perform a very valuable service, although newspapers too inevitably have become more like pocket digests than something that will enable people to think. I do not know how far it is possible to get out of the difficulty but it is dangerous for people to think less and less, and to be flooded by pocket magazines or newspapers instead of really worthwhile books. Newspapers have their place but newspapers do not often help one to think. How many of you would remember what you had read in the newspapers a week ago? You will find that you have almost entirely forgotten it, because it has left no impress on you although it might have excited you for a day or two. Probably the man who wrote it has forgotten it too. All of us, of course, cannot be creative artists or original thinkers, but we should accept other people’s thoughts only after thinking for ourselves, and not blindly.

I would like you to think of this major adventure of India that is taking place today. Criticize it whenever there is any failure, whenever there is any falling off, whenever there is weakness. Criticism will be an incentive to better work. But try to understand and appreciate that something magnificent and colossal is happening in India.

A large number of our people go to foreign countries to see what is happening there. We have much to learn, but sometimes it surprises me that people are not equally interested in making a tour of India and seeing what is happening in India. They travel ten thousand miles to see what is happening elsewhere, rather than a thousand or two thousand miles in India to see what is happening here. I would suggest for your earnest consideration that you might think of what is happening in India today and, what is more, make other people in India think of what is happening outside their own narrow sphere. That way they will have a sensation not only of our achievement and fulfilment but of a certain common purpose. What is happening down south in Madras should be as exciting to me in the Punjab as Bhakra-Nangal should be to persons in Madras. It is a common heritage that we are building up.

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