Speech to the North American Governing Body Commission
by Nori J. Muster
In 1981 the International Public Affairs Ministry started the ISKCON World Review. Our slogan was: "Newspaper of the Hare Krishna Movement." The paper had news from every zone, every continent. A copy of the paper went to every center. Early issues even provided regular coverage of GBC meetings.
An editorial in the first issue said:
"Our goal is to reach every initiated ISKCON devotee with up-to-date news, editorials, and commentary. We want to inspire the rapid advancement of Lord Chaitanya's sankirtana [preaching] movement throughout the world. ISKCON World Review is your own newspaper. It is the collective voice of ISKCON devotees all over the world. It promises to be one of the most effective means of communication within the Hare Krishna movement. It is a great sharing of inspirations, ideas, and activities for propagating Krishna consciousness."
This was the foundation of the publication. But later we changed it. We wanted to increase our circulation, to preach to the man on the street just like Back to Godhead. To impress the public, we buffered the "heavy news," or just left it out. The result was an uninteresting promotional journal that everyone bought for their congregation, but no one believed.
In 1986 Uddhava and I decided it wasn't right. We published the "positive" and "good" news of ISKCON, while obscuring and ignoring the so-called "negative" and "bad" news.
The Society owned castles and farms; devotees met the Pope, the Queen, and whole countries were on the verge of becoming Krishna conscious. Or were they? ISKCON's followers (both inside and outside the temples) should have been armed with real knowledge. Instead, they had to suffer the rude awakening of dramatic upheavals in leadership and finances. This tested their faith in ISKCON's leadership, our credibility as a newspaper, and even the process of Krishna consciousness itself. We concluded that our exaggerated treatment contributed to ISKCON's problems.
After some serious thought, we returned to our original intent. The newspaper was meant to provide a vehicle of communication within ISKCON. We actually saw that printing the "real thing" restored people's faith in the newspaper.
At the same time, however, this change generated controversy. While the general devotees welcomed it, some temple presidents and GBCs blatantly told us to stop printing real news. This criticism, coupled with BBT cutbacks, convinced us to stop for a time.
In 1987, Uddhava, Mukunda, and I charted a new editorial policy and started again. This past June, Uddhava and I conducted a survey of rank-and-file readers to see if our new approach had a positive effect. The results convinced us that we are on the right track.
Out of two hundred surveys, 116 came back, an amazing fifty-eight percent rate of return. The first question was, "Does ISKCON World Review give you a positive impression of ISKCON?" ninety-three percent said "positive."
When we asked, "What do you think of the IWR editorial policy?" seventy-eight percent chose "honest"; sixty-three percent chose "necessary"; forty-four percent said both "honest" and "necessary."
The last question was, "How could the paper be more significant for ISKCON?" Here are a few of the replies:
"Don't be afraid to discuss our shortcomings and problems."
"The controversies are most important to be reported."
"Have more input from leaders. Report on GBC meetings. I think IWR is an important forum for ISKCON."
"Balanced reporting. Print stories about the emotional realizations of the Movement."
"IWR should concentrate on problems faced by ISKCON, and their solutions."
"The newspaper is helping to keep devotees. I will continue to support its efforts and policies."
"The new 'glasnost' in ISKCON is welcome, yet long overdue. Initiated devotees must know what's happening in the movement. We don't want to appear as fools or liars. When the media asks a question, we want to know what to say. The media knows more of what is going on in ISKCON than we do. Your editorial policy is refreshing."
"I like the arguments for both sides of issues presented."
"As a forum for written discussion and editorial debate, the paper is already extremely significant. It should continue and expand this content."
There are more than three hundred ISKCON temples worldwide that need a way to communicate. The ISKCON World Review can fulfill that need. As we see it, IWR's highest purpose is to link ISKCON's hundreds of temples with a common bond.
I am here today to emphasize the need for a publication like ISKCON World Review. It is an instrument that can give ISKCON a united front. It can promote common goals like distributing books, freeing the Soviet Hare Krishnas, and saving New Mayapur [endangered property in France]. Of course, ISKCON World Review could deny the truth, obscure the issues, and ignore the problems. But this would be a great disservice to the members.
A new book, Monkey on a Stick, is about to be published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Press. It's on the history of ISKCON, or rather the history of corruption in ISKCON. Potentially, this book could devastate the faith of our lay members and even full-time devotees.
But a well thought out and well-written article in the ISKCON World Review could help. ISKCON could respond with honest and forthright commentary about the book. We have a chance to give our side of the story. We can point out the book's mistakes and fallacies, and give the inside story of how it was written. We could point out that most of the book is about New Vrindaban, and outline the difference between ISKCON and New Vrindaban. If we take steps to clarify these issues, giving ISKCON's point of view, then a potential disaster can be avoided. Our Society's credibility would be increased, rather than shattered.
Monkey on a Stick may very well become a best seller. But if we fail to acknowledge its existence, that is the surest way to convince our readers that the movement is in trouble. The same can be said about other controversial issues we face.
It is important for ISKCON to provide a forum where issues can be aired. Therefore, Uddhava and I are asking for your support. We want to know who we can consult about delicate issues. We want an advisory board of several GBCs or GBC-appointees who would be accessible and responsive to phone calls and other communications. They could go over the paper before or after it is published and give us their thoughts and recommendations. But most of all, we ask the help of some open-minded people who see the need for the kind of publication we want to offer to the Society.
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