Jinnah’s concept of the press
ARTICLE (September 11 2007): All said and done, Jinnah’s concept of the press was but a segment, albeit an important one, of the total framework of the set of overarching values he had subscribed to and stood for throughout his life, despite his chequered political career.
Hence before we focus on a segment, there is the need, at once both dire and imperative, to keep in view the picture in its totality which, obviously, tends to signify the importance that segment holds in an individual’s scheme of things. I have, therefore, generally tended to shun the segmental approach in favour of a holistic one.
The logic behind this approach is both simple and unassailable. Unless we know the person concerned in his totality we simply cannot interpret his views on various aspects of social, political, economic or religious life.
For instance, had Zameer Niazi only known the real Quaid, his penchant for newspapers, and his reading habits, he would never have cavalierly claimed, as he did, that the Quaid’s August 11th speech was sought to be censored by some minor officials in the Ministry of Information, and that at a time when he was at the peak of his glory.
Even so, the myth would never have gained currency but for three characteristics, which the Pakistanis as a nation excel in more than most nations on earth. And these are: proneness to sensationalism, to conspiracy theories and above all to gullibility.
For Jinnah’s concept of the press, we would have to see what he was in terms of his political philosophy, his political approach, and his political postures. These three aspects of his political life were, in turn, fashioned by the socialisation process he had undergone early in his life, long before he was hailed as the Quaid-i-Azam in the late 1930s.
While he was in his teens, he chose to go in for a law degree, much against his father’s ambitions to get him trained in business management. After his return to Bombay in 1896 he chose law as his profession. He became active in Bombay’s Anjuman-e-Islam affairs since 1897, but formally launched upon a public career much later, in February 1904, when he was elected to the Bombay Municipal Corporation.
During the next two years he confined his activities to his metropolis, being active in the Bombay Presidency Association (BPA) and the Bombay branch of the Indian National Congress (INC), besides the Anjuman and the corporation. In March 1906 he resigned from the corporation, and the following December he made his political debut at the all India level as a delegate to the Calcutta (1906) Congress and Private Secretary to its President, Dadabhoy Naoroji.
Why did Jinnah join the Congress at a time when the Muslim League was being set up at Dhaka? Because of the socialisation process he had undergone, the sort of personal, professional and social experience that had shaped his political attitude and orientation since the early 1890s.
During his student days in England (1892-96) Jinnah had come, as had most Indian students, under the soaring influence of nineteenth century British liberalism. Indeed one of the little known facts of his early life is that even the change in his career from training in ‘business’ to law came as a result of his ardent admiration for the British Liberal leaders whose speeches he had listened to with avid attention in parliament during the first few months of his stay in London.
“The Liberalism of Lord Morley”, he told Dr K. M. Ashraf years later, “was then in full sway. I grasped that Liberalism which became part of my life and thrilled me very much.” Jinnah’s initial penchant for Liberalism came to be powerfully buttressed by his close association with Naoroji, a past Congress president and the foremost Indian Liberal leader in England, and Naoroji became the chief formative influence in his life – and his political mentor.
A second formative influence during Jinnah’s early life was the BPA, Bombay’s foremost political body, which not only worked in concert with the Congress but also claimed among its leading lights several Congress stalwarts and past presidents – such as Badruddin Tyabji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Sir Pherozeshah Mehta and Sir Dinshaw Eduji Wacha.
A third influence was the cosmopolitan milieu and mercantile culture of Bombay which, with its laissez faire credo, reflected the ascendancy of liberal thought and put a premium on competition and the survival of the fittest. Metropolitan Bombay, over whose sprawling commercial landscape the tiny Parsi community dominated, provided as it were a living exemplification of the primacy of initiative, enterprise and hard work over numerical inferiority, racial prejudice and communal barriers.
These attachments and influences seem to have prompted Jinnah, as they had prompted Tyabji two decades earlier, to join the Congress. Fashioned after liberal principles and cast in their mould, the Congress was then pledged to take India on the road to self-government through constitutional means.
The self-government ideal was itself first enunciated at the Calcutta (1906) Congress where Jinnah spoke on two resolutions. And his penchant for liberal politics and democratic values led him to emerge as a stalwart in the cause of Indian freedom during the first two decades of twentieth century.
In the central Indian legislature, of which he was a member for over thirty years, he was a staunch advocate of human freedoms and the foremost spokesman on the sanctity of civic rights. Indeed, he invariably opposed every measure designed to curb those rights. Even when his opponents were involved, he advocated the cause of the aggrieved and pleaded for the restoration of their basic, inalienable rights.
To quote a few instances: he protested against the restrictions imposed on Tilak and Bepin Chandra Pal to enter Delhi and the Punjab (February 1918) respectively, and the continued detention of the Ali Brothers (February 1918); against the entry into Bombay Presidency of Annie Besant (1916) and later her internment (July 3, 1917); the Rowlatt Bill (February 6, 1919) which sanctioned detention without trial; against the arrest of B. G. Horniman, editor, Bombay Chronicle (February 19, 1924), and the detention without trial of Vallabhbhai Patel (March 10, 1930) and of Sarat Chandra Bose (January 22, 1935).
He also called for the removal of the ban on the Khudai Khidmatgars, a rival organisation, in the NWFP (February 5, 1935), and on the return to India of Subhas Chandra Bose (March 23, 1936), the most notable Young Turk in the Indian National Congress, who would be elected its president twice in the late 1930s.
Since his inception in politics, Jinnah had emerged as a democratic persona, one to whom all progressive forces in the country looked upto, at least till 1920 when he parted company with the Congress upon its adoption of ultra-constitutional means under Mahatma Gandhi’s inspiration. One by product of his persona was his staunch stance on press freedom.
Jinnah stood for building up a democratic order, step by step. Along with the Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary he considered the Press as the fourth pillar of a democratic edifice. No wonder, he returned to the cause of a free press again and again, from 1910 to 1947.
Thus, he referred to the Press Act (1910) in his speech on the Indian Penal Code and called for press freedom. Again, in his Presidential Address to the Bombay Provincial Conference, Ahmedabad, on October 21, 1916, he criticised the fault lines of the Press Act, referred to the Calcutta High Court’s remarks and ruling on the Act, and called for a Select Committee to have it reviewed.
He returned to the same theme at the All India Muslim League session, at Calcutta, on December 31, 1917, while speaking in support of a resolution. And in his speech on the condition of the Press in India in the Imperial Legislative Council on September 19, 1918, he declared “I say, protect the innocent, protect those journalists who are doing their duty and who are serving both the public and the Government by criticising the Government freely, independently, honestly which is an education for any Government”.
He also referred to press freedom in his address to the Muslim Journalists Association, Allahabad, on April 5, 1942. While he stood for press freedom all the way he also called on the Press to become socially responsible.
This comes out in his address to the Bombay Provincial Muslim Journalists Association on March 13, 1947, when he said “If I go wrong or, for that matter, the League goes wrong in any direction or [in] its policy or programme, I want you to criticise it openly as its friend, in fact, as one whose heart is beating [in unison] with the Muslim nation”.
In this connection it will be re-called that the social responsibility aspect of the press was underlined in the Hutchison Commission on the Press (1948), and Siebert et al’s Four Theories of the Press (1966). Siebert classifies the development of the press in history and the prevalent systems of the press in the middle 1960s in four categories:
(i) Authoritarian; (ii) Libertarian, (iii) Communist, and (iv) Social Responsibility. To Siebert, the Communist press was a modern version of the Authoritarian press of the previous centuries in the West, and the Authoritarian press over there had gradually transformed itself into the Libertarian press, since the eighteenth century, if only because of the increasing dissemination and acceptance of democratic values in the polities of the Western countries since 1680s.
However, it cautions that a free press run by individuals, private limited companies or cartels untrammelled by governmental control, interference and intrusion was in itself not good for a free society to flourish. The press must provide space for individuals and groups on the entire spectrum, apart from the owners of the press, to air their views and articulate their cause, however much opposed they may be to those of the press proprietors.
This means that the press has a social responsibility to reflect all the viewpoints on the spectrum, whether political, economic, social, or religious.
This is the concept of a socially responsible press we should try to actualise, if only in order to build a truly democratic and an innately pluralist society, and raise a truly democratic edifice – a concept towards which all democratic forces, including the press, and the civil society as a whole, should strive, in order to help translate this concept in terms of policy decisions and options.
This was the concept Jinnah had referred to in his March 13, 1947 address, albeit in a nebulous form. In essence, he emphasised two cardinal points. First, the press must be free to criticise anyone openly and without demur; but, second, it should do so as a “friend” – that is, it should do it within a certain framework.
In other words, Jinnah wanted the press to be not only free but go much further and become an agent of social responsibility and social change, upholding normative social values and ethos. A free press does not merely mean sheer criticism and the identification of failures, in order to get the situation redressed in good time.
While this approach does rid the government and the society of its shortcomings the press is still, in a sense, donning a reactive and somewhat negative role for the most part.
This has to be complemented by a proactive and positive role: by being itself socially responsible, by, moreover, helping to build a socially responsible society and polity, and by suggesting practicable suggestions for the problems the nation is confronted with. And to promote a socially responsible value system among its readers and the general populace at large, the press is in an eminently pivotal position.
This it could successfully do by helping them to develop a strong civic sense. And, for sure, a deep-rooted civic sense alone provides the substratum for an orderly civil society and a durable democratic polity, and serve as the best guarantee of both.
And this is what Jinnah wished for, in terms of the four institutions of the state – legislative, administrative, judiciary and the press. His triad principle of Faith, Unity, Discipline means that these (and other public institutions) should have faith in the destiny of the nation, they should act in concert to promote the nation’s cause, and that they should discipline themselves, in order not to overstep their spheres and bounds within which they are autonomous.
(The author is HEC Distinguished National Professor and has edited In quest of Jinnah (2007) the only oral history on Pakistan’s founding father.)
Source: Business Recorder