Chapman, Jane and Tulloch, John (2012) F.W.Wilson: renegade colonial newspaper editor or Indian nationalist hero? Media History, 18 (3). ISSN 1368-8804
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This paper examines the career in India, 1928 – 1932, of the English journalist Frederick William (‘Freddie’) Wilson. Wilson, a largely forgotten figure, was a Northcliffe protégé (Daily Mail 1913) who became a leading political correspondent in the early 1920s, working successively in senior positions on the Daily Mail, Sunday Times, People (where he secured a celebrated, controversial interview with Stanley Baldwin) and the Sunday Express. Described by Hannen Swaffer as ‘the greatest political correspondent of his time’, in 1928 Wilson was invited to edit The Pioneer, once the leading English language newspaper in British India, but decaying in circulation and advertising revenue. Based in the North Indian city of Allahabad (United Provinces), Wilson, with strong Liberal connections but no background in India, rapidly cultivated links with leading Indian politicians, including Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, and Mahatma Gandhi. Cautious support of Dominion Status for India was also accompanied by what some observers claim was an attempt to ‘Indianise’ the editorial staff and introduce a modern editorial style. However, according to some accounts his efforts rapidly antagonised sections of the traditional Anglo-Indian readership and the UP government. The English proprietors removed him in November 1929, ostensibly as a result of a contempt action inspired by The Pioneer’s coverage of suspect police evidence in the Meerut Conspiracy Trial, where 31 alleged communists were charged with trying to overthrow the government of India. Wilson then worked for a number of Indian proprietors, including the Indian Daily Mail (Bombay-Mumbai) and The Hindu (Madras-Chennai) and covered the successive Round Table Conferences in London, before his early death in 1937. The paper assesses the evidence for Wilson’s radicalisation of The Pioneer’s editorial stance in the context of the freedom struggle, and the extent to which new editorial methods and approaches were introduced. It also assesses the significance of the episode in relation to the way the English language colonial press related to changing political, social and economic ideologies in the run up to independence, reflected also in the subsequent history of The Pioneer (which featured a notable editorship by Desmond Young and an abortive invitation to George Orwell to take up an editorial position). Question marks over the continuing viability of the establishment organs segue into an evaluation of Wilson’s relationship to the development of liberal opinion on Indian independence. This original, ESRC funded research supplements an existing academic focus on the rise of indigenous, nationalist newspapers in India which challenged the hegemonic, English language, colonial owned press (see for example Robin Jeffrey’s India’s Newspaper Revolution). It explores the dilemmas of owning and editing such hegemonic newspapers in a period of decline and in the transition to an independent India.
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