Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee*
The story of the Free Press Journal (of FPJ, as it is fondly called) is the story of India’s freedom struggle and also the story of the rise of Indian newspapers. Founded by the legendary media person, nationalist Swaminathan Sadanand it was at the forefront of freedom struggle against the British.
There is an interesting story about the birth of FPJ : In 1920s, Indian press was suffering from the repressive laws of the British government. They did not have access to reports of official excesses and also of the satyagraha movement launched by Gandhi ji. Sadanand launched a news agency ‘Free Press of India’ and tried to supply authenticated reports of official excess and of satyagraha. It was first such attempt in Asia. However, many of the papers of the day could not make use of them for various reasons including intimidation by the government machineries. Sadanand decided that if a newspaper did not carry the Free Press of India dispatches it should have its own newspaper to publish them. But, the free press agency had no press of its own. So Sadanand decided to bring out a cyclostyled news bulletin calling it, Free Press. The first dummy was actually produced on a duplicator. It was 1928 and Sadanand was 30 years old then. By then he had already built up a reputation as a reckless and fearless journalist. He had his admirers too. Free press continued for a while as a cyclostyled newspaper. Mr. R. B. Latwalla, Proprietor of the Advocate of India offered to hire out some old machinery of his press. Thus was the printed free press journal born on June 13, 19301
The Free Press Journal was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) with a vision that was to prove far ahead of his day It was as unorthodox in character as it was innovative in concept. For Sadanand, who was also the first editor of the paper,the Free Press Journal was not so much a business venture as a cause. “The spirit with which he launched the paper and ran it for almost three decades helped it make it an integral part of two great Indian movements – the struggle for independence and the evolution of Indian publishing. It was appropriate that the birth of the Free Press should have coincided with the rise of Bombay as the nerve centre of the freedom movement. At the turn of that eventful decade, the country had been electrified with the salt Satyagraha and by the resurgence of a nationwide civil disobedience campaign Analyzing the scene, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “Bombay occupied the centre of the picture with its tremendous hartals and processions and lathicharges. Much of what was remarkable happened in Bombay and being a great city it had the advantage of publicity”.
With the drive and tenacity and all- encompassing purposefulness, Sadanand wrote The Free Press into the story of the times. It was by no means the only nationalist newspaper of the day, but Sadanand was one of a kind and he gave it a stamp no other paper had. It aimed at the common man as its pricing policy and writing style proclaimed in every issue. It spoke from the heart and did not hesitate to chastise the nation’s idolized leaders if the occasion so demanded. That was part of the uniqueness of The Free Press and it was made possible not only by the personality of its founder but by what Nehru perceived as a special feature of the particular point in time when the paper made its bow. “In 1930”, he wrote in his autobiography, “the national movement in India fitted in for a while with the growing social forces of the country and because of this a great power came to it, a sense of reality, as if it was indeed marching step by step with history”. Free Press Journal emerged as a truly people’s paper to coalesce with the political milieu and join the social forces that carried the Congress to new heights of influence and prestige.2
Though helping freedom movement was its prime goal, FPJ was never an out and out propaganda paper. Looking strictly from professional angle, FPJ lighted a spark in the news industry by several innovations and new moves. It attempted to provide commercial news at a time when the West enjoyed an unchallenged monopoly in the field of news gathering. It was practically the first newspaper in India to devote a full page to sports. Sadanand appointed A.F.S. Talyarkhan, then the most celebrated sports commentator, as his first sports editor and it made FPJ very popular. Both circulation and revenues boomed. In his time, the FPJ had also the best commercial and financial page. There was a time when FPJ and Dalal Street (where the Stock Exchange was located) were synonymous. He patronized cartoonists and his best find was R. K. Laxman who, however, fell out with Sadanand on one occasion and joined the rival The Times of India. But Laxman’s Common Manwas born in FPJ’s premises.3 Bal Thackeray worked as a cartoonist for FPJ until being removed from the job. Thackeray then founded Marmik.
But such was the paper’s distinction as a ‘nationalist’ paper that among those who worked on its editorial staff were men like Raja Hutheesingh (Nehru’s brother-in-law), Sharouk Sabavala ( who became a Director in Tata’s) and Homi Talyarkhan who was to become Goverenor of Sikkim and later India’s envoy to Libya and Italy.4
Though the FPJ is one of the oldest English Daily newspapers from Mumbai, yet it has managed to remain fresh and new. It remains a contemporary paper and rooted in current urban realities. In keeping with the international trend, it has reinvented itself in terms of design, get up and content. It now has three editions. Besides Mumbai, which is its flagship edition it is published from Indore and Bhopal. It enjoys good readership too. As per Indian Readership Survey (IRS) Q2, 2012 it stands second in terms of readership when compared with Financial newspapers in Mumbai.5 Another notable point is, it has a large young readers base. In fact a recent survey says that 64% of FPJ readers are in the age group of 21 – 40 yrs.6
- Shrivastava K. M. News agency from pigeon to internet, , Sterling Publishers, 2007, Page 69
- M. V. Kamath, SwaminathanSadanand One with a second,Media Mimansa – July-September 2008, Page 89