In pre-independence era, newspapers had one agenda in their minds, to further their ideology. Since then the fourth estate has stood as a witness to India's growth from a nascent nation to one that is currently celebrating 62 years of independence.
The first newspaper published in India
was the Bengal Gazette started by James Augustus Hickey in 1780. Although the paper was rather frivolous in nature as it mostly only published gossip and advertisements, the thriving media industry owes its existence to James Augustus Hickey and his Gazette. Soon after, papers such as Bombay Herald and the Bombay Courier were started in the country. Interestingly, the Bombay Courier later merged with the Times of India
In 1818, the first regional language newspaper Samachar Darpan was published in Bengali. The Bombay Samachar started in 1822, remains to this day the oldest newspaper in Asia. In the pre independence era, newspapers had one agenda in their minds – to further their ideology.
Bal Ganghadar Tilak is a prominent stalwart of the pre-independence era and a revolutionary leader who used his newspaper as a vehicle of communicating his ideas and ideals of the freedom struggle. Kesari, which was established in 1880, was published in Marathi. Prior to 1947, the newspaper industry had only one goal – to proliferate the cause of Independence. Post 1947, newspapers in India had a choice to make – either align with the government and support all its initiatives or act as a critique to the newly democratised country and its head. Newspapers at first acted as unofficial sponsors of its various initiatives and schemes. The five year plan especially came highly endorsed by the national newspapers.
Most of the newspapers in India came into existence post independence. Today there are thousands of magazines and newspapers in circulation. Whilst in the early days of democracy, the Indian government enjoyed full support of the media houses, the 70’s saw Indira Gandhi
declared emergency and all hell broke loose so as to speak.
The period between 1975 -1977, when Indira Gandhi had declared independence was the most trying period for journalism. As emergency superseded the right to the freedom of speech and expression, most newspapers had to shut down. For the first time since the British Raj, the basic fundamental right of being able to express ones views and ideas was decimated. For the first time since the independence, the Government of India was highly criticised and many newspapers started flourishing in the underground. One of the newspapers that refused to bow down to the pressures applied by the government was – The Indian Express.
But all forms of popular media bowed down to the Congress government for nineteen whole months that when the emergency was finally lifted, it felt like a breath of fresh air.
Importance of journalism and journalists in a democratic India
Important journalists like MJ Akbar and Anita Pratap established themselves as fearless leaders in the field. MJ Akbar is single handedly responsible for redesigned and edited The Telegraph in Calcutta. Anita Pratap became the first journalist to interview LTTE leader Prabhakaran in the 1980’s and she also covered the 1983 Sri Lankan internal riots. But it was Chitra Subramanian and her coverage of the Bofors scandal that firmly established the fact that the Indian media should also act as a whistle blower of the society in order to keep the government in check. Her investigative articles first started appearing in The Hindu, down south and then when then it was later published in The Indian Express. The repercussions of that story were still felt in the 2009 General Elections in India. Magazines such as Tehelka have since established themselves as leaders in investigative journalism since.
The current scenario and the future
With the emergence of the television and the new media (internet), it can be argued that newspapers are becoming irrelevant in terms of providing the latest news. However, many newspapers in India and the world
to some extent have started providing analysis of the news as well. The coverage of the 2009 General Elections is the proof of that. Most newspapers had their own supplements dedicated to the elections and they scrutinised every detail of the elections in a way the television channels cannot provide. As of 2000, there are at least 41,705 newspapers in India and growing every day. The media whilst flawed is one of the most precious commodities in any democracy and as India celebrates another year of its emancipation, the media has a lot to celebrate as well – everyday for millions all over the country it makes this independence count substantial instead of some word uttered as a cliché at some cocktail party.