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Fascinating Story: INDIAN PRESS AT 190,by T.D. Jagadesan,18 May 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 18 May 2006

Fascinating Story


By T.D. Jagadesan

The scintillating story of the indomitable Indian Press is, indeed, a fascinating one. Let us take a bird’s eye view of this 190-year story.

The Bengal Gazette was started in 1816 by a patriotic Indian, Gangadhar Bhattacharjee.  At this juncture, Raja Ram Mohan Roy appeared on the scene.  His Indian and Persian newspapers gave undivided attention to fight social evils like Sati.  He also used his papers to awaken the masses to the cultural and political ideas of the West.  Thus, the beginning of modern history of Indian journalism could be rightly attributed to the pioneering patriot, Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

The great Indian mutiny of 1857 saw a new turn. It gave rise to a situation when harsh censorship laws were deemed inevitable by the Government of the day.  It also exercised a check on the free growth of Indian journalism.  Despite the Press censorship, Dadabhai Naoroji of Bombay and Surendranath Banerjee of Calcutta launched two newspapers, Rast Goffar and Bengali respectively.  Both the papers reflected the personality of their Editors.  They kindled dormant nationalism in the educated classes of the Indians.

It was, however, left to the Father of the Nation, Gandhiji to make a memorable beginning with the launching of the Young India in 1919.  He realized the power of the pen to fight the Raj.  So, from his powerful pen flowed articles and editorials. This trend was not looked upon with sympathy by the Raj. Therefore, it took a critical view and the Editor-Gandhiji was incarcerated in 1922.  However, this could not silence the Mahatma.

Earlier, fiery patriot and pathfinder, Tilak broke new ground in Journalism, as in politics.  In 1881, he started two newspapers, the Kesari and the Maharatta, the former an English daily and the latter a Marathi daily.  In their columns he launched frontal attacks on the Raj and its heartless ways. The Hindu made its historic appearance from Madras in 1878.  Even from those early days, it displayed its distinguishing traits, namely fair comments and objective reporting conforming to the ethics of the profession. 

Around 1868, Sisir Kumar Ghosh brothers came out with the Amrit Bazar Patrika.  Seven years earlier, the Times of India made its bow under a great Editor, Robert Knight.  It is a matter of pride to recall here that this daily from the year of its inception made its news coverage extensive.  However, its sympathies lay with the Raj.

The contribution made by an Englishman, Benjamin Guy Horniman to the growth of Indian journalism could not be ignored.  His editorship of the Bombay Chronicle remains memorable.  He mounted relentless attack on the misdeeds of the Raj, especially the Amritsar massacre and the Rowlatt Act.  This was not tolerated by the authorities of the day.  He was deported in 1919.  The Pioneer of Allahabad indulged not in naked attacks, but in satire.  Its celebrated Editor, Rudyard Kipling played a key role in making the paper popular.

Newspapers edited by Indian Journalists continued to play a decisive part in fostering nationalism in those formative years.  The names of Indian Review, Liberty, Forward, Advance, Servant of India, Justice, Bande Matram, Al Hilal, Swarajya and Hitavada have thus found an abiding place in the hearts of the people; so also their Editors.

During the pre-independence era, Indian journalism concentrated its attention on the ways of the Raj and little else; with the dawn of independence in 1947, the role underwent a change. Nation building activities became its main focus.  In a larger sense, it became the watchdog of Indian democracy.

In post-independence India, the Press experienced repressive measures during periods of emergency.  The first emergency was proclaimed in the wake of the Chinese aggression in 1962.  The second was ordered in 1971 when Pakistan launched an undeclared war against India.  While the second was still in force, a third emergency on grounds of “internal disturbance” was clamped down in June, 1975 when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Many courageous Editors and Journalists did not bow to these repressive measures and fought a grim battle to uphold the freedom of the Press.  This will, indeed, constitute a glorious chapter in the history of Indian journalism.

Free India witnessed many changes in the growth of our Press.  The first Press Commission was constituted in 1952 with comprehensive terms of reference.  It was headed by an eminent jurist and comprised distinguished public figures drawn from varied walks of life.  It made many recommendations, far-reaching in character, after a labour of two years. The Chairman, Justice G.S. Rajdhyakksha’s vision made the recommendations solid and enduring in nature.

The Commission’s recommendations centred on such important areas as the Price-Page schedule, legislative control, restrictive practices, appointment of the Registrar of Newspapers for India, diffusion of ownership and advertisement agencies, not to mention the Press Council of India.

Accordingly, the first Press Council of India was constituted in 1966 under the provisions of the Press Council Act of 1965.  It laid down certain guidelines for safeguarding the ethics of the profession.  It continued to be the watchdog of the freedom of the Press and its healthy functioning.  The Council has been clothed with effective powers to make its functioning purposeful and beneficial to the Press as well as the public.

In 1955, the Working Journalists (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1955 came into force. It provided many safeguards to working journalists.  Perhaps, for the first time, the working journalists were assured of security of service.  A Press Consultative Committee was constituted in September, 1962 with a view to bringing about a closer liaison between the Government and the Press; it was abolished in 1964.

Small newspapers too received considerable attention. An Enquiry Committee on small newspapers was constituted to foster its growth.  Its report was submitted in 1966.  The Committee recommended the re-introduction of the Price-Page schedule.  It also recommended that 50% of display advertisements to be given to small newspapers to sustain their development.

According to one of the recommendations of the First Press Commission, the office of the Registrar of Newspapers for India was established in 1956.  It is a statutory authority for the collection of all aspects of statistics regarding the Press in the country. Its annual report is placed on the table of Parliament during the Budget Session every year. 

Investigative journalism has come to stay in India.  Almost all the leading dailies and periodicals vie with one another to spotlight a fact of an on-going scandal, apolitical as well as political, or unearth a new one, only to sustain the interest of their readers.  Examples are not far to seek, even the traditionally conservative English daily like the Hindu thought it expedient to front-page the Bofors scandal. India’s front-rank periodicals like the India Today, the Sunday and the Week have stolen a march over the English dailies in this all important area of investigative journalism. 

Taking advantage of a wide spectrum of hi-tech, colour printing has scaled new levels of production excellence.  With the result, superbly produced periodicals at moderate prices are available to the reader today.  In this respect, our cine journals printed by the private sector and the brochures produced by leading corporate organizations like Voltas are all shining examples of superb colour printing.  All this is made possible by the extensive, computerized use of sophisticated offset and gravure process. 

In the coming years, the Indian Press will no doubt move to fresh fields and pastures anew. Three cheers! ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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