The Untold History of Indian Journalism

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History of Indian Journalism

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Journalism in India can broadly be divided into two categories, Journalism in pre-independence and Journalism in post-independence. The history of Indian journalism is quite interesting as you will find yourself exploring not simply a list of acts or relevant names of the Indian press but also get to understand the context or the evolution that framed Indian journalism that is today. The Indian journalism history largely comprised of a struggle for India’s Independence against the Britishers. As otherwise stated, the fight for the Indian press was a fight for India’s freedom.

In this article, we will talk about Journalism in pre-independence and post-independence. We will also share the names of the printed media initiators and also discuss the history of Indian journalism and press Regulation Acts both before and after the Independence of India. We have also provided the names of newspapers and journals along with their authors for your reference.  

So, without any delay let us start our reading journey! 

An overview of the journalism in Pre-Independence 

  • Journalism in pre-independence era of India was marked by several censorship laws and acts by the British government against the British Indian press and media outlets. There were separate rules of publication, distribution and circulation of news which everyone needed to abide by. Often the acts were revoked by the governing bodies but they were eventually replaced by new acts.
  • Journalists tried publishing stories on the British Raj covering every aspect including the flaws within the system and the injustice meted out to the Indians. Britishers who tried to express the truth through newspapers were either deported to England after having their licenses revoked, were imprisoned or heavily fined. People were even commuted death sentences for publishing anti-governmental editorials.
  • Newspapers published in vernacular languages like the Amrita Bazar Patrika encouraged people to fight against the British rule. Other popular newspapers were The Bengal Journal, Madras Courier, Bombay Herald, Calcutta Chronicle etc. The British government also collected huge amount of securities and forfeitures after The Press Act was passed in 1910. With the uprisings and protest against British rule by the Indians, different measures were taken to control the media. The scenario in India with prisoners going on hunger strikes were repressed and filtered to a great extent before the newspapers reached the public.
  • Journalists also secretly dissipated information through illegal means like secret radio messages, graffitis and cyclostyled sheets. These writers were mainly those whose publications was repressed under the British regime. 

An overview of the journalism in post-Independence  

  • Different acts were passed after Independence to liberalise the print media. Leaders of the country like Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India were strong advocates of a liberalised press. As per him, he would have a “free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of the freedom” rather than have “a suppressed or a regulated press”. However, he was not in support of vindictive imageries and the publication of news that might give a rise to communal tension, for which he passed “The Press Objectionable Matters Act” on October 23 1951. 
  • A series of acts were passed to safeguard the interests of the people and the Indian press until it evolved into the situation that is prevalent in the country today. Not simply journalism, people in general have greater freedom to express themselves keeping in mind not to disturb other’s freedom. Of course, people do misuse the meaning of “freedom”, in which case the laws of our country can guide them in the right direction. Overall, Indian journalism was a constant clash between the inhabitants of the past and the sweat and blood of true Indians that brought relative peace to Indian journalism. 

James Augustus Hicky- The Father of Indian Journalism  

  • James Augustus Hickey was a British who launched the first newspaper in India titled “Hicky’s Bengal Gazette” or the “Original Calcutta General Advertiser” in 1780. He is known as the “father of Indian journalism. The newspaper consisted of stories against the imperial diplomacy. The contents were gossips and scandals of the British without bearing their names and largely comprised of advertisements. 
  • The Bengal Gazette heavily criticized the administration of the Governor General of India Warren Hastings and put the limelight on the lavish and splurging lifestyle of Mrs. Marian Hastings. Hicky’s Gazette published for two years from 1780 to 1782 before being seized by the East India Company because of its provocative contents of outspoken expression. This brought an unceremonious end to the first launched newspaper in India. James Augustus Hickey lived the rest of his life in poverty and obscurity until his death in October 1802. 

James Silk Buckingham: The European who aimed for a liberal press in India  

  • James Silk Buckingham deserves to be mentioned when talking about Indian journalism. He was a British author who holds considerable importance because of his support for undaunted and liberal journalism. His 8-page biweekly titled “Calcutta Journal” was first launched in India in 1818 and was priced at Re 1. The newspaper talked about various subjects like politics, literary news, India and also displayed advertisements and views. The first issue of the paper was released on 2 October 1818. 
  • James Silk Buckingham was a staunch supporter of free press. He vehemently condemned the Sati and the failure of the government to abolish it, in his periodicals. Buckingham was a friend to the Indian press and defended its identity and the right to its existence. He can rightly be called the first real journalist in India and his newspaper was the first most capable newspaper in pre-independent India. 
  • His journalism possessed a higher tone and a deeper interest. Although James Augustus Hickey is the father of Indian journalism, Buckingham has also been hailed with a similar idiomatic phrase in Rangaswami Parthasarathi’s book “Journalism in India”. 

Raja Ram Mohan’s role in Indian journalism  

  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a tenacious social reformer and a journalist who published the first Bengali newspaper named “Sambad Koumudi” in 1821. The newspaper inculcated reading habits that became a major source of discussion and education for Indians. 
  • It was a pro-Reformist publication that aimed to abolish the practice of Sati pratha where widowed women were burnt in the same pyre as their deceased husbands. Moreover, the newspaper also criticised British foreign policy and the poor conduct of Britishers towards Indians. Also, to bring about a social and cultural change in the Indian society, Raja Ram Mohan Roy forayed into journalism. 
  • Being a polyglot himself, he also launched and edited a journal in Persian language titled “Mirat-ul-Akhbar (Mirror of News)” on 12 April 1822. Moreover, he used Persian language as a means to inform the intelligentsia or the top policymakers of India about the events happening in the country. Mirat-ul-Akhbar folded on 4 April 1823 because of the Licensing Regulation Act which prohibited Indians from posting anti-British sentiments. Additionally, Raja Ram Mohan Roy found the degrading conditions set by the British ordinance unacceptable. 
  • Prior to its stoppage, the newspaper was published every Friday. He intended to reach the truth instead of promoting his well-wishers or scandalising anybody through the published medium. The newspaper served as Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s expression of dissent towards the British Raj’s corrupt policies in India. 

History of Journalism and Press Regulation Acts before Independence  

  • A series of newspapers were published during the 1980s including the Calcutta Gazette (1784), Bengal Journal (1785), Madras Courier (1785) and Bombay Herald (1789). During this time, the French were penetrating into India. Out of apprehension that the French might provoke the Indians against the British through their publications, the Censorship of Press Act was passed in 1799 by Lord Wellesley. With the passing of this act, the newspapers were brought under government scrutiny and was censored accordingly. In 1818, Lord Hastings who had progressive views of the press abolished the Censorship of Press Act. 
  • Following the abolition of the Censorship of Press Act, India’s First vernacular newspaper was published in Bengali titled “Samachar Darpan” by the Baptist Missionary Society on 23 May 1818. It was a standard newspaper with both Indian and European news and was quite popular with the educated people because of its contents of considerable value. 
  • On December 4, 1821, Sambad Kaumudi was released and in 1822, Bombay Samachar, a Gujarati newspaper was launched that is the oldest existing newspaper of India. It was because of the growing dissent amidst Indians against the British that the publications further required to obtain a licence under the Licensing Regulation Act. It was passed by the Governor General of India, John Adam in 1823. Defaulters would have to pay a penalty of Rs 400 and the licence could also be revoked by the British ordinance. As a result of the newly launched act, several newspapers were badly affected and they had to shut down their operations. 
  • The year 30 May 1826 saw the publication of the first Hindi newspaper “Udant Martand” from Calcutta. It was launched after its owner Pt. Jugal Kishore Shukla obtained a licence. On this day (30 May) Hindi Journalism Day is observed every year to celebrate the onset of Hindi journalism. 
  • In 1835, Charles Metcalf abolished the Licensing Regulation Act and was hailed as the “Liberator of Press” because of his liberal ideals and policies. However, the East India Company was not happy with a liberal press system and therefore Charles Metcalf resigned after a year. 
  • Licensing Act was passed in 1857 following the Indian Rebellion during that period, also popularly known as the Sepoy Mutiny or the First War of Independence. Ten years later in 1867, the Registration Act came into existence. As per this Act, the books or the newspapers that were to be published must bear the name of the printer or publisher and the location of publication. 
  • On 20 February 1868, Amrita Bazaar Patrika was released in Bengali which continued its publication in post-independence era before it’s final demise in 1991. In the 1870s, several vernacular newspapers were published representing fearless journalism that largely criticized British activities in India. As a result, the stringent Vernacular Press Act was passed in 1878 by Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India. It was also known as the Gagging Act. 
  • The Vernacular Press Act was enacted to curb the freedom of Indian press voicing concerns about the dominating British regime in oriental languages (non-English). The new law was a warning against the thirty five vernacular newspapers posting seditious content. Amrita Bazar Patrika which was printed in Bengali changed to English to escape the impact of the Vernacular Press Act. Finally, the Act was repealed by Lord Lytton’s successor Viceroy of India Lord Ripon. The Vernacular Press Act proved to serve as a source of strong incitement of Indians against the British’s oppressive rule. 
  • In 1908 the Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act was passed to keep a check on any objectionable material denouncing the British government. The Act allowed the government to confiscate press assets or property in violation of the prescribed rules in the act. It was a measure to stop the profound influence that the vernacular and English languages were having in promoting radical Indian nationalism. 
  • In 1908, the Criminal Law Amendment Act was rolled out to curtail the progress of the anti-partition agitation and the Swadeshi movement. The provisions of the Act meant to punish any unlawful activity that incites one to commit violence.  
  • As per the Indian Press Act of 1910, printers or publishers were required to register themselves with a security deposit under the local government. In case, newspapers published anything offensive against the British sentiments, the government will be free to forfeit the security and ban the printer from publishing newspapers. Around thousand papers were prosecuted under this act. 
  • The year 1911 saw the publication of the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act.  According to this Act any meeting intending to cause disturbance amidst the masses and printed matter related to such subjects should be strictly avoided. 
  • The Civil Disobedience Movement was initiated with Gandhi’s salt march. Upon reaching Dandi from Sabarmati Ashram, he broke the salt law by making salt from the seawater. To oppose this silent but symbolic protest, Gandhiji was not only arrested but “The Press (Emergency Powers) Act was rolled on in 1931. This Act suppressed all publications that put a question mark on the British government’s sovereignty. 
  • An act about arbitrary censorship before Independence was the Press Regulating Act of 1942. According to the provisions of the act, no amount of sabotage would be accepted by the British government through the release of newspapers or journals. 
  • Finally, the All-India Editors’ Conference was conceived in 1940 that bore intentions to safeguard the press rights in India. It tried to advocate better relations with the government by agreeing to a mutual agreement. The Conference assured that certain voluntary restrictions would be maintained regarding the publication of news relating to the Quit India Movement. In return, the British government withdrew a notification that aimed to suppress all media covering Congress activities. It was an initiative by the Indian and Eastern Newspaper to oppose the censorship practiced during the Satyagraha Movement in India. 

History of Journalism and Press Regulation Acts post-Independence  

  • In March 1947, the Press Enquiry Committee was established that examined press laws keeping the fundamental rights prescribed by the Constituent Assembly in mind. The committee also repealed previously implemented laws like the Indian States Protection Act (1934), Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act (1931) etc. 
  • The Press (Objectionable Matters) Act was passed in 1951 and the Article 19 (2) was amended inspite of the stiff opposition of the All-India Newspapers Conference. As per the article, government could forfeit security from a press if objectional matter is printed. This act remained in force till 1956. 
  • In 1954, a Press Commission came into existence under Justice Rajyadhyaksha that recommended the formation of the All India Press Council. The Council was established on 4 July 1966 and became an autonomous, quasi-judicial body with the then judge of Supreme Court, Justice Janardan Raghunath Mudholkar as the its chairman. 

Some other acts that were published post-independence are: 

  • Delivering of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act (1954) 
  • Working Journalists (Conditions of Services) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act (1955) 
  • Newspaper (Price and Page) Act (1956) 
  • Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publications) Act (1960) 
  • Modern-day Indian press is not governed by any formal body. The Article 19 (1) of the Indian constitution is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen who will be granted “the right to freedom of speech and expression”. 
  • Nowadays, media doesn’t mean simply newspapers and journals. It has reached far beyond printed material. News has become available through electronic means like radio, Television, and the World Wide Web. There are two self-regulatory organizations that self-regulates content aired on television, which are News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and Broadcast Editors Association (BEA). 
  • Regarding the online media, it should be compliant with the guidelines of the Central News Media Accreditation Guidelines (1999) that is a part of the Central Press Accreditation Committee that grants accreditation to the working journalists at the headquarters of the Indian government. These guidelines are subject to amendments as time and situation permits. 
  • The two news services currently operating in India are Press Trust of India and the United Press Trust of India. The Press Trust of India was established way before in 1948 when all the newspapers came together to form the co-operatively-owned internal news agency. 

List of important newspapers and journals with their authors 

  • Bengal gazette  – J.A Hickey 
  • Maharatta, Kesari by Bal Gangadhar Tilak 
  • Hitavada by Gopal Krishna Gokhale 
  • Sudharak by Gopal Ganesh Agarkar 
  • Som Prakash by Eshwar Chand Vidyasagar 
  • The Hindu, Swadesamitram by G. Subramaniya Aiyar 
  • The Bengalee by Surendra Nath Banerjee 
  • Amrita Bazaar Patrika by Sisir Kumar Ghosh and Motilal Ghosh 
  • Madras courier by Richard Johnson 
  • Prabuddha Bharata by Aiyasami, B. R. Rajam Iyer, G. G.Narasimhacharya, and B. V. Kamesvara Iyer (on behest of Swami Vivekananda) 
  • Independent by Motilal Nehru 
  • Punjabi by Lala Lajpat Rai 
  • Voice of India, Rast Goftar by Dadabai Naororji 
  • Vande Mataram, Paridasak by Bipin Chandra Pal 
  • Mook Nayak, Janata, Bahishkrut bharat by Dr. B.R Ambedkar 
  • The leader, Hindostan, Abyudyaya, Maryada by Madan Mohan Malviya 
  • New India, Commonweal by Annie Besant 
  • Mirat-ul-Akhbar, Sambad kaumudi by Raja Ram Mohun Roy 
  • Navajeevan, Young India, Harijan, Indian opinion (South Africa) by Mahatma Gandhi 
  • Indian mirror by Devendra Nath Tagore 

Final Thought!  

“The Doors” artist Jim Morrison once said “Whoever controls the media controls the mind”. We can absolutely find this relatable in the perspective of the pre-independence scenario of India. The Britishers were focused on repressing Indian journalism because they knew that a piece of paper and a pen can create widespread dissent and overthrow the British regime. That is why they made consistent efforts to control the mind by controlling the media. The history of Indian press shows us that every goal has its fulfilment, that every true struggle must end in repose. An essentially human birth right, freedom will rise high and fly across the broad sky. It cannot be suppressed as it will continue to rage on. All thanks to the nationalist leaders, revolutionists, common public and of course, undaunted journalism that India’s Independence turned into reality from a collective dream.

Now that we have talked about the history of Indian journalism, what are your views regarding the “freedom of expression” in today’s world? Do you think journalism today is fearless or do you think it needs to be more liberal?

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