The Free Press Journal is one of the oldest English Daily newspapers from Mumbai with a heritage of more than 90 years. And yet, The Free Press Journal is 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 means different thing to different people – a platform for the articulate, a trendsetter for the young and a chronicle for the old.
It was at the forefront of freedom struggle against the British and continues with the free and fearless journalism till date. Indeed, the history of The Free Press Journalism mirrors that of Indian independence.
Swaminath Sadanand, a 30-year-old idealist from Madras trudged his way to Bombay and with a vision that was to prove uncomfortably ahead of his day, brought out a newspaper as unorthodox in character as it was innovative in concept. For Swaminath Sadanand, 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 lathi charges. 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”.
The paper supported the practice of Jewish doctors who had taken refuge in Mumbai fleeing persecution in Germany in the 1930s. Indian doctors opposed their right to practice claiming that Germany did not have reciprocal arrangements for Indian doctors. The Free Press Journal argued that this was against the “ancient Indian traditions of affording shelter from persecution
Among the paper’s founders was Stalin Srinivsan who founded Manikaddi in 1932. Well known politician, the late Bal Thackeray worked as a cartoonist for the newspaper. Notable cartoonist R.K.Laxman too worked with The Free Press Journal .T.J.S. George, the founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine worked under the legendary S. Sadanand at the The Free Press Journal. The veritable who’s who of Indian journalism have worked with the paper. They include M.V.Kamath, Rajat Sharma, M.J.Akbar, S.A.Sabavala, Shankar, Dom Moraes, Edathatta Narayanan, M.V.Mathhew (McCullough). The list is indeed very long.
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.
In the process, it lighted a spark in the news industry. The Free Press Journal set new standards by opening a full page to sports, another to commercial news at a time when the West enjoyed an unchallenged monopoly in the field of news gathering; Sadanand pioneered the concept of an Indian news agency.
Sadanand’s Free Press of India news agency was the first venture of its kind in all Asia. The man he sent to China was the first Asian correspondent to be posted by one Asian country to another. It was a grand vision. If he had lived longer, it might have been carried to fruition one way or another.