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When Mahatma Gandhi Defended Journalism While Facing Contempt Proceedings

Ashok Kini
2 Oct 2019 8:00 AM GMT
When Mahatma Gandhi Defended Journalism While Facing Contempt Proceedings
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Today is 150th birth anniversary of our father of nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi's life was his message to the world. It will be quite relevant today to remember how the Mahatma dealt with a contempt proceedings against him. This would throw light on how Gandhi valued freedom of press and sternly defended himself. Gandhi and Mahadev Haribhai Desai were the...

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Today is 150th birth anniversary of our father of nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi's life was his message to the world. It will be quite relevant today to remember how the Mahatma dealt with a contempt proceedings against him. This would throw light on how Gandhi valued freedom of press and sternly defended himself.  

Gandhi and Mahadev Haribhai Desai were the editor and publisher of a newspaper called "Young India". They were charged with contempt of Court in publishing a letter written by the District Judge of Ahmedabad (Mr. B. C. Kennedy) to the Registrar of the Bombay High Court, and also with publishing comments on that letter. The gist of the charge was that the letter in question was a private official letter forming part of certain proceedings then pending in this Court, and that the comments which were made in their newspaper were comments on that pending case.

Initially, certain correspondence took place between Gandhi and the Registrar of Bombay High court. Gandhi said:

In my humble opinion I was within the rights of a journalist in publishing the letter in question and making comments thereon. I believed the letter to be of great public importance and one that called for public criticism.

In response to the contempt proceedings, Gandhi made the following statement:

Before the issue of the rule certain correspondence passed between the Registrar of the Honourable Court and myself. On the 11th December I addressed to the Registrar a letter which sufficiently explains my conduct. I, therefore, attach a copy of the same letter. I regret that I have not found it possible to accept the advice given by His Lordship the Chief Justice. Moreover, I have been unable to accept the advice because I do not consider that I have committed either a legal or a moral breach by publishing Mr. Kennedy's letter or by commenting on the contents thereof. I am sure that this Honourable Court would not want me to tender an apology unless it be sincere and express regret for an action which I have held to be the privilege and duty of a journalist. I shall therefore cheerfully and respectfully accept the punishment that this Honourable Court may be pleased to impose upon me for the vindication of the majesty of law.

When Gandhi was summoned to the Court, he stood by the statements he made and reiterated that he would accept any ruling made by the court.

The court, however, held that the publication of the letter amounted to contempt. In its judgment, it said:

But there would seem to be some strange misconceptions in the minds of the respondents as to the legitimate liberties of a journalist. Otherwise the respondent Gandhi could hardly have contended before us-as he in fact did-that if a son brought a suit against a father, and if a journalist thought that the son's action was wrong, the journalist would be justified in holding the son up to public ridicule in the public press, notwithstanding that the suit was still undecided. I need hardly say that this contention is quite erroneous. It may however be that principles which are quite familiar in England are imperfectly known or understood in India, and that the respondents have paid more attention to the liberty of the press than to the duties which accompany that and every other liberty.

The bench then closed the contempt proceedings by severely reprimanding Gandhi and Desai and cautioning them both as to their future conduct.

Read the judgment here

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