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Gandhi's Persuasive Communication and Ideal Journalism
By Dr. K. John Babu*
This paper attempts to equate Mahatma Gandhi's art of communication with Aristotle's three variables of communication or Rhetorica. It has highlighted Gandhi's ideal character, his logical thinking, and ability to rouse emotions among public. It throws light on Gandhi as an accomplished journalist and classifies Gandhian journalism into four kinds: Gandhi's Public journalism, Gandhi's Ethics in journalism, Gandhi's Peace journalism and Gandhi's Development journalism. It concludes by expounding the relevance of Gandhi's persuasive communication and objectives of journalism to the present day society.

Mahatma Gandhi was a great apostle of peace, insatiable soul ever in quest of the truth, fighter for minority rights in South Africa, canny politician and social reformer. He could be the needed inspiration to humankind. In his own way, Gandhiji was a consummate artist and an accomplished craftsman, a resolute scientist and an astute thinker. All these were possible by the ability of his art of communication and his passion for ethical values in journalism. He thought, prayed, travelled, spoke, appealing everywhere to the conscience of his fellow-citizen. He recognized that communication is the most effective tool to shape opinion and mobilize popular support. He developed his own particular art in order to influence the people. He developed harmony in his art. Gandhi's art of communication is quite relevant to the ancient technique of Aristotle's Rhetorica.
Gandhi's communication and Aristotle's Rhetorica :
The oldest and most detailed book on human communication is Aristotle’s Rhetorica. Aristotle believed that rhetoric or communication is an art and it should be developed by the communicator in order to persuade his audience. “Aristotle defined rhetoric as the art of persuading the audience. He identified three means or factors that can persuade the audience to a desired action: the character of the communicator, his sense of logic, and his ability to rouse emotions in the audience”(Seetaram 1991:92,93).

Philosophically speaking, character builds upon one’s values. Aristotle says that character is certainly a cultural variable. Culture teaches a set of ethical values to a person. An ethical value is the cultural inheritance of a people. It has been transmitted from generation to generation and it has guided the actions of that people. A value can be defined as “a guiding light for a person, one that directs his actions or shows which direction he should take” (Seminary Case, 1978). Here Gandhi’s cultural and ethical values have been attained from ancient scriptures and scholars like Tulsidas. Gandhi imposed the most rigid discipline on himself. The moral influence of his personality and his gospel and technique of non-violence cannot be weighed on any material scale, nor is its value confined to any particular creed or country. It is an imperishable gift to the entire humanity.
According to Gandhi, personal ethics and state ethics are inseparable. Ethics may be divided into two sections. 1. Personal ethics which deals with the individual and the family; 2. State ethics, which treats the state and its institutions. Personal ethics fall and rise to the tunes of state ethics and state ethics also varies with personal ethics. Sometimes these two types of ethics rise and fall together. The Greek and Chinese philosophers recognized the fundamental relation between personal and state ethics. Aristotle in his treatise said that the state is a union of families and villages having for its end perfect and self-sufficient life. Like Plato, Cicero and Kant, Gandhi gave priority to moral values in social and political life. In fact “Mahatma Gandhi in modern times was the first leader who associated ethical values like truth and non-violence with practical political affairs very graciously and successfully. For him politics devoid of religion is like a noose for the nation, which may strangle and ultimately destroy it” (Gutpa, 1998:157a). For Gandhi, religion is identical with morality and truth is the substance of morality.

Sense of logic
In Aristotle model of communication, an effective communicator must have a sense of logic. While explaining the objectives of journalism Gandhi said three important things and practiced in his newspapers and even speeches. One of them is ‘Understand popular opinion and give expression to it’. Asking freedom to multi-cultured Indian society from colonial British rule is a logical fact. To reach this herculean task, Gandhi adopted Satyagraha a passive resistance and used Rama Rajya which is Gandhi’s equivalent for the English term ‘utopia’.
Satyagraha: It is Gandhi’s secular method of resolving conflicts. In this regard, L. N. Gupta observed “Gandhi drew Satyagraha from his deeply-held religious and philosophical belief which was not exclusively Hindu. He acknowledged his debt not only to Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishad, but to the Sermon of the Mount, and the writings of Tolstoy and Thoreau. One can be atheist or agnostic, and still practice Satyagraha. But it is easier for a man of religion to accept the assumptions on which Satyagraha rests” (1998: 157b). That is why he sat for hunger strike on many occasions.
Rama Rajya: Many people ridiculed the phrase ‘Rama Rajya’ which Gandhi occasionally employed to describe the goal of Indian Freedom Struggle. “The great saint Tulsidas used the term Ram Rajya in the context of monarchial form of government. But, what Gandhi meant by this ‘saintly idiom’ was an ideal polity firmly founded on the noble principles of justice, equality and free from exploitation”, (ibid., 159). That is why he broke laws that were unjust especially tax on salt which even the poorest people use. Gandhi did not believe in state religion. In this context, Fischer (1994a: 430) noted the strange paradox that “Jinnah who had grown up as a secular nationalist in his younger days, and who apparently had little interest in religion, founded a state based on religion, while Gandhi, wholly religious, worked to establish a secular state”.
Arouse emotions: Aristotle said that an effective communicator must have an ability to rouse emotions among audience. Gandhi also said while explaining objectives of journalism that ‘arouse desirable sentiments among the people and fearlessly expose popular defects’. Gandhi exactly did what he said. He visited nook and corner of India after return from South Africa in 1915. He perceived the pangs of the common people and interacted with them. He understood the sentiments among the people and expressed the popular defects of rulers on dais and in Newspapers. Gandhi firmly asserted that he was writing these articles only to awaken the Indians and to rouse desirable sentiments in them against the British rule while engaging more number of people with nationalism by his effective public speeches.
Aristotle also said that if the character and the logic are strong enough, then the audience will be emotionally roused and finally persuaded to accept the communicator's propositions. First two variables are communicator-centered and the third is audience-centered. Aristotle says that if a person would like to master the art of communication, he should be able to reason logically, analyze human character, and understand human emotions. These three factors: character, logical thinking and rousing emotions among audience are seen in the pragmatist Mahatma Gandhi. His speeches gathered mass people in one line to desired action. This resulted in Gandhi's three national wide mass movements like non-cooperation in 1920, Civil Disobedience in 1930 and Quit India in 1942 making him mass communicator and national leader.

Gandhi: An ideal Journalist

In the early part of the 19th century, the Indian press moved hand in hand with the people’s leaders. Most of the leaders ran their own newspapers as their mouth piece and to propagate their ideology. Kotamaraju Rama Rao, one of India’s great editors, has written that “Indian Journalism owes its vitality, importance and influence to one great factor – its greatest journalists were men with a mission, men highly equipped intellectually, powerful writers, able controversialists and men of integrity and courage” (Parthasarathy, 1989: 86). One of such journalists was Mahatma Gandhi, who started and used newspapers for achieving his goal of complete freedom. The nationalist newspapers marched shoulder to shoulder with Gandhi in the nonviolent struggle for freedom. For 40 years he edited and published weekly newspapers. He reached a large number of the Indians and non-Indians with his newspapers having high circulation at a time when mass media was limited.
Gandhian journalism emerged from the philosophy and values practiced and propagated by Gandhi in his life time through his publications viz., Indian Opinion, Young India, Navajeevan (Gujarati) and Harijan. Gandhi used his four newspapers to propagate his views through persuasion, discussion and debate. “Gandhi started his journalistic foray in South Africa with Indian Opinion on 4th June 1903 with Mansukhlal Nazar as editor. The first issue carried an unsigned editorial, ‘Ourselves’ written by Gandhi which outlined the policy of the paper” (CWMG, 1961:580).
The intention behind the newspaper was to give the Indians a weekly round-up of news and to educate them in sanitation and hygiene. As soon as he returned from South Africa in 1915, Gandhiji started his political life. He purchased a printing press, Navajeevan Publishing House to publish his monthly, Navajeevan (Gujarati) from Ahmedabad. Navjeevan was converted into a weekly and Gandhi took over its editorship on September 7, 1919. Gandhi acquired Young India an English weekly on October 8, 1919 from the Home Rule Leaguers of Bombay, actual founders of it and started publication. However, Young India was closed in 1932 owing to repressive acts of the British administration. “The thought of having another weekly was lingering in Gandhiji’s mind when he was in prison in Poona on account of Civil Disobedience Movement” (Bhattacharya, 2002:94). Though he was in prison, he established Harijan Sevak Sangh. On the request of the Sangh, Gandhi started Harijan (English) as a weekly on February 11, 1933. Harijanbandhu, Harijansevak are Gujarati and Hindi editions, respectively. Gandhian journalism emphasizes on four different criteria of news namely, culture, probity in public life, peace and development. Gandhiji did not explicitly speak of these news values, however, he did emphasise on them because of his personal experience derived from his philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa), self-reliance (swadeshi), self-rule (swaraj) and truth force (satyagraha), Vilanilam, 2005: 80).
How he was able to edit his journals in the midst of his other activities seems a miracle. Most of the articles, even those which made up his autobiography, were written during short intervals between two engagements, some were written in moving trains because it was more important for the manuscript to be dispatched from a particular station so that it was in Ahmedabad at the right time for printing. Gandhi’s select band of disciples assisted him in publishing his views in newspapers. “In South Africa, Chhaganlal Gandhi managed the Gujarati section of Indian Opinion. Albert West, a European journalist, switched to Indian Opinion, which drew self-sacrificing loyalties of persons like Henry Polak and his wife. In India, Gandhi acquired the life-long assistance of able and devoted men like Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal” (Nanda, 2012: 2).
Gandhian journalism can be classified into four types: Public journalism, Ethics of journalism, Peace journalism and Development journalism.

Gandhi's Public Journalism:
Gandhi outlined that the basic purpose of newspapers was public service. In serving the people, the newspapers were expected to transmit news that would transform the individual from wrong doing to righteous behaviors. Gandhi said that “the true function of journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock it with wanted and unwanted impressions”. Mahatma Gandhi's speech during his visit to The Hindu sums up his philosophy and vision of journalism: “I have, therefore, never been tired of reiterating to journalists whim. I know that journalism should never be prostituted for selfish ends or for the sake of merely earning a livelihood or, worse still, for amassing money. Journalism, to be useful and serviceable to the country, will take its definite, its best for the service of the country and, whatever happens, the views of the country irrespective of consequences (Gupta, 2012).
When some of the electronic and print media, which are in private sector, became family business and party pamphlets, Gandhian concept of trusteeship gains meaningful relevance to the present day society. He described large businesses as ‘trusts’ the ‘wealth of the people’ and thus emphasized on the larger social purpose that industrial wealth should serve the public in independent India. Gandhi remarked: “A trustee has no heir but the public” (Young India, 15 November 1928). The principle of trusteeship in its application to the equitable distribution of wealth as well as to the nonviolent socialist reformation it underpins is practicable because it does not require everyone to undertake it all at once. Gandhi paved the way for establishing a Sarvodaya, social order upholding the ideal ‘each for all and all for each’.
Gandhian public journalism relates to economic equality, which is the master key to nonviolent independence. Gandhi observes that working for economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and labor. It means the leveling down of the few rich in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of nation’s wealth on the one hand, and a leveling up of semi-starved naked millions on the other. Gandhi mentioned equal distribution of wealth as one of the thirteen items in his ‘constructive programme’. In short, the real implication of equal distribution is that each man must have the wherewithal to supply his essential and natural needs.
In 1927, Gandhi explained that, “I am endeavoring to see God through service of humanity, for I know that God is neither in heaven, nor down below, but in everyone…”. On a number of occasions, Gandhiji wrote on moral conduct of the individual and he believed a spiritually integrated person is no longer a slave of the passions, but is able to go about his or her daily affairs in the light of true self-knowledge (Parel, 2002: 16).

Ethics in Journalism
Practicing ethics in journalism was a main factor that transformed an ordinary Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi into Mahatma Gandhi. Almost all of Gandhi’s writings had aimed at moral transformation of the individual while reinforcing moral conduct in him.  He never believed in pigeonhole compartmentalization of life. He advocated a holistic view of life based on spiritualism and ethical values. Ethics in the profession act as guidelines, which are necessary in the process of information dissemination. These ethics relate to language use, and the means adopted in securing information for ensuring objectivity and fairness in presenting facts to the public. In the process of collection and dissemination of information, the press adopts different means and occasionally suppresses news from the public because of extraneous reasons.  Gandhi said: “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 would appeal to follow journalists to realize their responsibility and to carry on their work with no idea other than that of upholding the truth” (Harijan, 27 April 1947).
Gandhi was against publishing advertisements as ‘commercial speech’ as recognized by US courts that go against the editorial content. He wrote in Young India (January 9, 1930) that “It is a matter of sorrow that in a country like India, where drink is almost universally admitted to be vice, there are respectable newspapers enough to be found to take advertisements for the sale of spirituous liquor whilst their editorial columns favor total prohibition” (National Media Center, 1997: 314).
Gandhi commented on the content of advertising in Young India (1926 March 25) that “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 a rigid censorship instituted by newspaper proprietors and editors themselves and that only healthy advertisement should be taken” (Desai, 1988:76). He also appealed in Harijan (24 August 1935) to take extreme caution for truth in advertisement that: “My plea is for due regard for truth in advertising. It is a habit with people, especially in India, to treat the printed word in a book or a newspaper as gospel truth. There is need therefore for extreme caution in drawing up advertisement” (CWMG, 1975: 357).
Gandhi felt that journalism should not be a vocation for earning a living. It should be a means to serve the public, an aid to a larger goal. Trikha (1998) a former resident editor of Nav Bharat Times says that “he (Gandhi) was expecting of the press to perform much higher role than simply purveying information and commenting on the role of propagating nobler thoughts and the need for moral and ethical conduct by every individual and the society as a whole” (p.119).

Peace Journalism
Gandhi has been the symbol of peace, truth and nonviolence. The philosophy of peace journalism is to prevent violence and war. Peace journalism identifies itself as socially responsible journalism and interprets the events to resolve the conflicts. Peace journalism is defined as “a programme or a frame of journalistic news coverage which contributes to the process of making and keeping peace respectively to the peaceful settlement of conflicts” (Hanitzch, 2004: 483-495). Gandhi practiced peace journalism even before the term was coined by Johan Galtung. “Norwegian scholar Johan Galtung first proposed peace journalism in 1970s as a self-conscious, working concept of journalists covering war and conflicts” (Mc Goldrick and Lynch, 2000: 26).
Gandhi used non-violent methods to resolve a crisis of Hindu-Muslim unity.  Writing about nonviolence, Gandhi professed the philosophy in an article, ‘The doctrine of the sword’ “I am not a visionary. I claim to be a practical idealist. The religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for common people. Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute.  Non-violence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the putting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant” (Young India, 11 August 1920).
Advising the practice of non-violence with confidence Gandhi said: “I have been practicing with scientific precision non-violence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over 50years. I have applied it in every walk of life, domestic, institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed” (Harijan, 6 July 1940). If non-violence and truth were fundamental doctrines, Gandhi objectified these concepts by launching satyagraha. It is a new technique of social change. To Gandhi, satyagraha meant a science and an art of life. He identifies satyagraha with ‘truth force’ or ‘soul force’. It is the vindication of truth, not by the infliction of suffering on the opponent but by one’s own self. Gandhi said: “Non-violence is a power which can be wielded equally by all - children, young men and women or grown-up people - provided they have a living faith in the God of love and have, therefore, equal love for all mankind. When non-violence is accepted as the Law of Life, it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts” (Harijan, 5 September 1936).

Development Journalism
The aim of development journalism is to accelerate the processes of development to bring in remarkable change in the quality of life of majority of the people. It covers entire gamut of socio-economic and cultural events. Mahatma Gandhi in India practiced development reporting even before the term, development journalism was coined by Alan Chalkley in 1967.
As a development journalist, Gandhi felt that the newspaper’s role was to educate the masses. “Gandhi profusely wrote on contemporary topics such as removal of untouchability, prohibition, promotion of Khadi and other village industries, and the popularization of spinning wheel as a means of supplementing the income of the semi-starved and unemployed village peasants in India” (Krishna Murthy, 1966: 79-80).
Gandhi tried to remove the stain of untouchability, which led to graded inequality in Hindu society, and the root cause of paralyzing development.  Gandhi wrote: “Untouchability as it is practiced in Hinduism today is, in my opinion a sin against God and man and is, therefore, like a poison slowly eating into the vitals of Hinduism” (Harijan, 27 March 1939).
Gandhi also holds the view that salvation of India depends upon the sacrifice and enlightenment of her women. Throughout his long life of service, Gandhi preached forcefully against the wrongs done to women in the name of law, tradition and even religion. Gandhi admonished men for degrading women. He Said: “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel. It’s man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then indeed is woman less brute than man? If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior…. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman” (Harijan, 10 April 1930). Gandhi advised women not to look for men for protection. They must rely on their own strength and purity of character and on God”. Gandhi wrote: “To ask Indian’s women to take to contraceptives is to say the least, putting the cart before the horse. The first thing is to free her from mental slavery, to teach her the sacredness of her body, and to teach her the dignity of national service and the service of humanity.” (Harijan, 2 May 1936).
Gandhi advocated nature cure to keep up public hygiene and sound health in an article through his journal Harijan. He wrote: “Nature cure consists of two parts. First, to cure diseases by taking the name of the god or Ramayana, and second, to prevent illness by the inculcation of right and hygienic living. The report from the village says that the inhabitants are cooperating with them in keeping the village, clean. I hold that where the rules of personal, domestic and public sanitation are strictly observed and due care is taken in the matter of diet and exercise, there should be no occasion for illness or disease. Nature cure implies an ideal mode of life and that in its turn presupposes ideal living conditions in towns and villages” (Harijan, 25 May 1946). Gandhi also gave instructions about food. An article entitled ‘Green Leaves and their Food Value’ in Harijan he said: “Milk and banana make a perfect meal. For nearly five months I have been living on uncooked foods. The addition of green leaves to their meals will enable villagers to avoid many diseases from which they are now suffering” (Harijan, 15 February 1935).   On development of language, Natarajan (2000) said: “His clear and simple style, directive and free from all flourishes, gave Gujarati a strength and vividness of expression which was a valuable contribution to the development of the language” (p 183).
In Gandhian journalism, rural development was given importance in view of the fact that Gandhi was keen on rural development which would play a key role in national development. Gandhi described the ideal Indian village in Harijan of July 26, 1942: “It is a complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its vital wants, and yet interdependent for many other wants in which dependence is a necessity. Thus every village’s first concern will be to grow its own food crops and cotton for its cloth. It should have a reserve for its cattle, recreation and playground for adults and children. Then if there is more land available, it will grow useful money crops, thus excluding …tobacco, opium, and the like. The village will maintain a village theatre, school and public hall. It will have its own water works ensuring clean supply. This can be done through controlled wells and tanks. Education will be compulsory up to the final basic course. As far as possible, every activity will be conducted on a cooperative basis” (Cited in Fischer, 1994: 407).

Mahatma Gandhi proved himself as a mass communicator by his strong built of character, reasonable and logical thinking and ability to rouse emotions and desirable sentiments among the people. Gandhiji considered journalism as a by-product of his activities, and newspaper was a vehicle for him to propagate his views. Mahatma Gandhi had used his newspapers as channels of mass communication and mouthpieces.
Unfortunately, the foundations of Indian press laid by Mahatma Gandhi are receding to the background in the present day wing to media’s slow adoption of the western model of journalism, tabloidization which emphasizes on sensationalism, sex, and surprises. News reports are biased and personal involvement of journalists is quite discernible in the newspapers. Vilanilam (2005: 89) said that “the old journalism of the Gandhian era, of journalists with noble goals, motivated by the need for social change in India, has disappeared. Journalism as service to the society has been replaced by journalism aimed at profit and affluence for media promoters and media workers”. Murthy (2001: 57) also observed in his studies and said that “probity in public life and development have been replaced by crime and political news respectively. Instead of news related to probity in public life, newspapers prioritize crime news of murders, suicide, thefts and so on. Crime news occupies second place next to politics”.
Murthy (2010) said, “in relation to journalism his (Gandhi) news values are highly relevant.  Culture as a news value can be relevant even today in the wake of proliferation of newspapers and news channels. With continuous supply of news or events, by alien channels impact the culture of a country, and in the arena of international communication, it is described as cultural imperialism” (p 24-29). As defined by Gandhi, nonviolence is a conscious attempt to detach oneself form violence in spite of having strength and prowess, the emergence of peace journalism as suggested by Johan Galtung (2006) as a news value is increasingly becoming relevant in the beginning of 21st century.
In respect of ethics, Gandhian journalism needs to be looked closely as it has great relevance even today. In previous Indian elections, some language papers published a different type of stories, which were neither considered as news nor advertisements. P. Sainath pointed out that “If it was news, the reports we have compiled must rank amongst the most remarkable news judgments ever. If this was advertising, why was it not clearly marked as such? If it was not advertising, then it was ‘paid news’ a term now firmly embedded in the media lexicon” (The Hindu, 30 November 2009). Politicians seem to have gained greatly from what is now called ‘package journalism’ or ‘coverage packages’. Gandhi looks quite contemporary, as most of the issues that he has raised about advertising are still relevant and is part of legal or self-regulation.
Gandhi is probably the greatest and ideal journalist of all time as he intelligently used the pen to lead a mass movement against the British rule. He noted that My newspapers became for me a training ground in self-restraint and a means for studying human nature in all its shades and variations. Without the newspapers a movement like Satyagraha could not have been possible.
The International political magazine The Time, while chronicling the sweeping forces and great events of the 20th century catalogued Gandhi as one of the greatest activists. He fought for change from outside the traditional halls of power, which was bound to an abstract vision for which he would pay any price. The world that revered few men had revered Gandhi.  The power of his message would endure to move men and nations for all times to come.

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Source: This article is published in GITAM Journal of Gandhian Studies Vol. 3 No. 2 pp. 451-464 June-December 2014.

* Dr. John Babu Koyye is an Assistant professor of Convergent Journalism at Central University of Kashmir Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. Dr. John is the founder and Chief-Editor of the “International Journal of Communication & Social Research (IJCSR) a publication aimed at Asian journalists, media researchers and minorities. He holds a PhD in Journalism from Andhra University Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. He also obtained masters degrees of Philosophy and Religious Studies. Prior to join the present position, he taught at Acharya Nagarjuna University (ANU), Guntur. He has combined his research activity with the production of material such as videos and audios. He has been instrumental in awareness and advocacy of health communication through puppetry. He published a reference book Role of Radio in Primary Education (2010) apart from 16 papers in journals and edited books. He is the founder of “MISPA” Visakhapatnam based NGO, working on awareness. His areas of interest are applying communication for development and culture. Email: