National Herald: Having it back will be a welcome change if the founding intentions are kept in mind

The Associated Journals Ltd, currently in the midst of a legal battle because National Herald is set to become a non-profit entity instead of a commercial one; shareholders are also hoping to relaunch its newspapers. According to a report on Daily Pioneer, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have major shares in Young Indian, who’s subsidiary is AJS (which owns National Herald).

High journalistic standards

Jawaharlal Nehru launched National Herald in 1938 and made the editorial desk his “spiritual and political refuge”, according to historian Benjamin Zachariah in the biography Nehru; Nehru often wrote unsigned articles espousing principles that he was otherwise unable to endorse in public. Through his work as a foreign correspondent for National Herald, Nehru was able to make space for himself as a “principled spokesman for liberty.”

Reviving the newspaper? Image courtesy: IBNLive

Reviving the newspaper? Image courtesy: IBNLive

According to this report in The Indian Express, the paper was popular because of Nehru’s signed editorials. Ratan Mani Lal, a former National Herald journalist says that the paper “epitomised quality in English language, credibility and working conditions.” However, historians and veteran journalists claim that National Herald was more or less a “personal project” of Nehru.

The newspaper was largely welcomed by those associated with the freedom movement opines Inder Malhotra on The Indian Express. Chalapati Rau functioned as the newspaper’s editor for over 32 years and was a mentor of free India’s journalist fraternity. Live Mint quotes Nehru, “People think it is my paper. It really is Chalapathi Rau’s paper; he has made it what it is.” In this Economic and Political Weekly article 'The Press after Nehru', Chalapathi Rau mentioned that Nehru had high professional standards and sought press freedom of the highest order.

This concern for editor's freedom extended beyond freedom of expression to relations with directors and managers. Nobody was to interfere with the editor's functioning; he might be right or wrong; but if his integrity was unquestioned, he was to function freely, once he was appointed.

Chalapathi mentioned only two instances when Nehru specifically asked something to be written, the rest of the time, Chalapathi was completely free to exert editorial independence.

Financially frail

According to this article on Live Mint, the paper experienced financial difficulties in all phases of its existence, “the paper constantly ran out of money and, even worse, newsprint.” National Herald went to sleep for three years between 1942 and 1945, according to Zachariah, “Nehru refused to submit to the conditions of censorship and control,” (Nehru along with other Congress leaders was imprisoned during this time for the Quit India Movement). However, Live Mint’s Sidin Vadukut attributes the temporary shutdown to “financial unfeasibility.” In an article on Firstpost, Ratan Mani Lal also writes that the organisation had fallen on financially bad times, “old loyalists borrowed newsprint and accessories from other printing presses using their goodwill in the market.” National Herald and its Urdu edition Quami Awaz shut shop for good on 1 April, 2008. According to Sify News, the paper was running into losses “due to overstaffing, mainly non-journalists and in the press and lack of advertisements.” “News agencies like PTI and UNI had withdrawn their services from the Herald because they had not been paid for months. Moreover, failure to pay the staff salaries on time caused acute labour unrest,” reports The Indian Express.

Revival and not for profit status

There have been numerous speculations in the past that National Herald was set to be relaunched. Rahul Gandhi had clarified in the past that he had no such plans of bringing the newspaper back. In 2012, Business Standard reported that National Herald could get “revived”.

With the decision taken at the Extraordinary General Meeting of shareholders in Lucknow on 22 January, seeking their approval for turning AJL into a not-for-profit, the intention is to bring back the “larger purpose for which the company was founded in the first place... National Herald, Quami Awaz, and Navjivan played an important role during the freedom movement and functioned historically in public interest and for social good.”

As Ratan Mani Lal observes, the “National Herald brand of journalism” drew from “orderly work, checking and cross checking, impartial reporting and correctness of language.”  If the move to bring back the newspaper with Nehru’s original intentions in mind — which according to Chalapathi Rau were about press freedom, tolerance, values, it is welcome. And as Chalapathi Rau writes, “when there is so much talk of the heritage of Jawaharlal Nehru, there will have to be equal interest in the heritage of values he left for the press.” According to Sify News, the last editorial, titled 'Herald hopes for a better tomorrow', it asked, “Will National Herald be made to remain only a part of history of will it continue to function to herald change and progress in time with positive basic values for which India has always stood?” and this remains to be seen.

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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2016 16:07:19 IST

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