Commemorating 12th November As Public Broadcasting Day
12th November is observed as Public Broadcasting Day for last several years to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s first ever live broadcast over All India Radio (AIR). It was Shri Suhas Borker who sensitised the Government of India about it and because of his great and noble initiative the then Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shrimati Sushma Swaraj decided to observe the day as Public Broadcasting Day. Mahatma Gandhi’s live broadcast over All India Radio on 12th November 1947 to address the refugees, who came from Pakistan and were camping in Kurukehtra, was his second radio broadcast and of course the first was over AIR.
The first live broadcast of Gandhiji was over Colombia Radio in London in 1930s and he communicated with the Americans through that broadcast. When Gandhiji went inside the studios of Colombia Radio and faced the microphone and was asked to speak he innocently asked “Shall I speak to it?”. But when he used the microphone in the studios of the AIR in 1947 he later told the media that “This is a wondrous thing. In it I see Shakti; the miraculous power of God.” His broadcast was a landmark event in the history of broadcasting in the world. A brilliant communicator he wanted to personally visit the refugees, mingle with them and feel their pain and suffering. But due to pressure of work he could not go there and, therefore, was requested to address the refugees through radio.
We all know that as a communicator his impact on masses surpassed the impact of all the media people, great writers and radio journalists of that era. His description of microphone as God’s power and Shakti brought out the enormous significance of media, be it print or electronic, in shaping our destiny. Today when media power is manifested in many powerful forms be it the print, television, Internet, mobile telephony and social media we realise the Shakti which Gandhiji could see in a simple microphone in 1947. Restraint and discipline which Gandhiji exercised as a journalist, editor and writer is now needed to use mass and social media for public good.
It is lesser known that his first Individual Satyagraha which he started before launching the Quit India Movement in 1942, was the only Satyagraha dedicated for defending press freedom which was suppressed by Britishers citing the emergency caused by the Second World War. When Gandhiji extensively wrote about non-violence the British government censored it on the ground that he did not have freedom to write and reflect on non-violence when second world war had started and India had “joined” the war. Gandhiji protested against that decision and refused to submit to censorship. Therefore, just before starting the individual Satyagraha he described press freedom as the foundation of Swaraj and asked people to suffer and sacrifice for defending the foundation. So on the Public Broadcaster’s Day the foundation of Swaraj has to be defended by invoking Gandhiji and his role as an exemplary communicator who so constructively used media for awakening consciousness of people for the cause of non-violence, freedom, liberation, empowerment and above all for positive social change. Thanks to Suhash Borker for educating people about it.
It is very instructive to note that on 16th November 2000, four days after the Government of India decided to commemorate 12th November as Public Broadcasting Day, President K. R. Narayanan admiringly referred to it in his speech on the theme media and prevention of natural disaster and very thoughtfully invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s first live radio broadcast of 1947.
He very eloquently said, “In 21st century in a well wired and connected world, Gandhiji would have expected us to render better service to people by using the miraculous powers of space technology, information technology, electronic media and many other channels for faster communication. I am glad that the Minister for Information and Broadcasting Smt. Sushma Swaraj has declared 12th November, the day on which Mahatma Gandhi addressed the refugees over radio, as the National Public Service Broadcasting Day.”
At that time I had the good fortune of working under Pres-ident Narayanan as Officer on Special Duty.
(The author is Joint Secretary, Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed are personal.)
By Satya Narayana Sahu