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Ethics and Morality of the Fourth Estate: a Gandhian Perspective

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The true function of journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock it with wanted and unwanted impressions. – M. K. Gandhi

Today, when the voguish media scenario horripilate with unheard chaotic – investigative journalism- through all means of fair and foul, the moral turpitudes enumerated by Gandhi for the fourth estate becomes even more relevant and desirous. The steering of market forces in the media has resulted in an irreprehensible scenario in which the ‘advertorial’ and ‘response’ and ‘response features’ verge out editorials. The sad state of affairs is extrapolated into the social sphere when the crass celebrities and models are projected as the icons of this modernist society. It is therefore worthwhile and commendable to revisit Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, ideology and tenet of journalism and imbibe the ethics and morality contained in his works.

Gandhi was probably one of the greatest journalists that we had of all time. The weeklies he sprinted and edited were undoubtedly the greatest weeklies the world has ever known. Gandhi was concomitant with six journals, and out of those six journals he was the editor of two journals. ‘Indian Opinion’ was his first paper that was started in South Africa in 1903. Gandhi started writing and giving interviews to newspapers in order to discuss the grievances of Indians and mobilize public opinion in their favour. Gandhi was engrossed in writing open letters and Letters to the Editor, but he realized quickly that writing occasionally and the generosity of newspapers were not sufficient for the political campaign that he had launched.

In June 1903 he launched Indian Opinion as he needed a mouth piece to reach out to people. It then became a crucial instrument for education within the community. It also served as a weekly newsletter which disseminated the news of the entire week among the Indian community. Gandhi tried to educate and sensitize the readers about sanitation, self-discipline and how to be good citizen in his contributions to the columns of the newspaper. He was against advertisements; simultaneously he did not want his newspapers to be in a loss. In spite of the fact that Gandhi’s papers published no advertisements, yet they enjoyed wide circulation. ‘Young India’ and ‘Harijan’ turned out to be powerful vehicles of his views and ideologies on all subjects. He wrote with passion and burning indignation devoting himself in writing considerably that was simple and clear, understood by people of all walks of life.

Gandhi attached great importance to moral and ethical standards in journalism. Even today, in journalism the content is of immense significance. Journalists must stand by good initiatives and time- honored values. Gandhi averred that journalists must not join hands with evil forces. They must sympathize with the victims of attributes. Then they derive a moral strength to fight for justice. This moral force is instrumental in a nation’s progress. Gandhi considered the media persons as the torch bearers of national advancement. He propounded that the sole aim of journalism should be service.

Gandhi assigned colossal importance to the media and equated their role as similar to that of the religious scriptures. According to him, newspapers have become more important to the average man than the scriptures. The Bible, the Quran, the Gita and other religious scriptures have almost been replaced by newspapers. In the East, as well as in the West, newspapers are fast transmuting people’s holy book such as Bible, Quran, Zend-Avesta and Gita all revolved into one.

Gandhi always believed that “journalism should never be prostituted for selfish ends or for the sake of merely earning a livelihood or, worse still, for amassing money.” Gandhi once gave a glimpse of the exacting code he had established for himself in ‘Young India’. ‘To be true to my faith, I may not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion. The reader can have no idea of the restraint I have to exercise from week to week in the choice of topics and my vocabulary. It is training for me. It enables me to peek into myself and to make discoveries of my weaknesses. Often my vanity dictates a smart expression or my anger a harsh adjective. It is a terrible ordeal but a fine exercise to remove these weeds.’

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Gandhi propounded the objectives of a newspaper should be to recognize and understand the popular feeling and give expression to it; second is to stimulate among the people certain desirable sentiments, and the third is courageously to expose popular shortcomings. He said in his autobiography: The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper has abundant power in it but just as an unchained flow of water submerges whole countryside and destroys crops, even so a frenzied pen serves but to destroy. If it is not controlled for doing what it is really meant for , it proves more poisonous, than want of control. It’s considered to be profitable only when exercised from within. If this line of comprehension reasoning is correct, how many journals of the world would stand the test? But who would stop those that are of no use? Who should be the judge? Who is going to take the charge and who is going to be accountable for it ? The useful and the useless must be like good and evil that can never be detached from each other and goes on together, and its man who must make his choice by proper reasoning among useful and useless.

For Gandhi, journalism was not a vocation to earn his livelihood; it was a means to serve the public at large. He wrote: “In my humble opinion, it is wrong to use a newspaper as a means of earning a living. There are certain spheres of work which are of such consequence and have such bearing on public welfare that to undertake them for earning one’s livelihood will defeat the primary aim behind them.”

If a newspaper is considered as a means of making money and profits, the result is likely to be followed by severe malpractices. Those who have at least some experience of journalism are already aware about the fact that such malpractices do prevail on a large scale. It’s not obligatory to show to them that malpractice is been done. Gandhi was of the opinion, “Newspapers are meant primarily to educate the people.” They make the readers acquainted with modern-day history.

From when he started receiving Advertisement support for running a newspaper Mahatma Gandhi wrote: It is now a conventional practice with newspapers to rest for revenues mainly on advertisements rather than on depending merely on subscriptions. The result has been awful. The very newspaper which publishes advertisements in praise of drinks also writes against the evil of drink. At the same time we have come across, about the harmful effects of tobacco and simultaneously as also from where to buy it. We have also witnessed the same issue of a paper carrying a extensive advertisement for a certain play and condemning that play as well. Medical advertisements are regarded as the largest source of revenue though they have done, and are still doing innumerable harm to the people. These medical advertisements almost entirely offset the services rendered by the newspapers. Many at times majority of the people are allured into buying injurious medicines. Many of these are accountable in promoting immorality. This practice of revenue model has been adopted entirely from the West. No matter what it takes we must strive hard to put an end to this undesirable practice or at least try to bring a reform. Every newspaper is obliged to exercise some restraint and follow ethics in the matter of advertisements.

Today journalists and newspaper owners are accepting money and gifts and incentives for publishing news mainly termed as ‘paid news’ is widely accepted in the society that simultaneously is bringing down the standards of journalism and reputation of journalists as a watchdog of democracy. Gandhi was strongly against this money- making business approach. He wrote, “I am definitely of opinion that a public worker should accept no costly gifts.” He opined that all good action will lead us to good goals. “It is my firm conviction that all good action is bound to bear fruit in the end. Let us forget the past and think of the task before us”. He believed in this while saying that all good means will lead us to good ends. The purity of means is more important than the ultimate goal.

Today’s media world concentrates on profit, power and capital. But Gandhi was the one who redefined the role of journalist in the society. His journalistic skills, aesthetics, symbolic representations and sense of ethics helped him in his political career. Gandhi was magnificent orator and a communicator. The language of Gandhi was not only powerful but attracted eye balls. For example his slogans like, ‘Do or Die’, ‘Quit India’ .. Etc. attracted millions of people. When Gandhi was in London, he came into contact with a lot of western literature as well as with people who were interested in Indian religious traditions. This influence reflected in his journalistic writing.

At present when there is rampant concern over the rising influence of market forces on media, and compunction over journalism being no longer a social service and an instrument of education. Gandhi’s views on values of journalism bring to bear on the profession of journalism the force of ethics and morality. In this context he had said, ‘It is often observed that newspapers published any matter that they have, just to fill in space. The reason is that most newspapers have their eyes on profits. There are newspapers in the west which are so full of trash that it will be a sin even to touch them. At times, they produce bitterness and strife even between different families and communities. Thus, newspapers cannot escape criticism merely because they serve the people.’ He lamented that in the present scenario “the newspaperman has become a walking plague. He spreads the contagion of lies and calumnies.”

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Ethics and Morality of the Fourth Estate: a Gandhian Perspective. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from
“Ethics and Morality of the Fourth Estate: a Gandhian Perspective.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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