Monday, May 6, 2013

The story of the Press in Tamil Nadu

(A new series)
by V Ramnarayan

Probably born in Calcutta in the 1780s, Indian newspaper publishing spread to Madras and Bombay soon, within a decade or so. By 1800 several dozen English newspapers were being published, catering mainly to the British. The Armenian monthly, Azdarar, published in Madras in 1794, making Madras the birthplace of Armenian journalism, was the first non-English journal.

Language journalism probably had its origins in 1818, with Digdarsana, a bilingual English/ Bengali newspaper published by the Serampore Baptist Mission. The Bombay Samachar first came out in 1922 in Gujarati and English. It is published today as Mumbai Samachar, the oldest continuously published paper in India and one of the oldest in the world.

Issues from 1829 of the Kulasa-i-akhbar-i-lateef, handwritten in Persian and read daily to Emperor Akbar Shah II  can be seen in the Red Fort Museum in Delhi.

Eventually papers came to be published in all the languages of the subcontinent as well as Dutch, French and Portuguese.

Journalism in Madras
The Government Gazette was established in Madras 1831. The St George Gazette, whose first issue appeared in 1832, the various military orders, the Queen’s orders and other such official publications were printed by The Madras Asylum Press, originally meant for the children of ex-soldiers and officers  to learn printing as a craft.

Of all the newspapers published in Tamil Nadu, The Hindu (1878) is surpassed in circulation only by the Tamil newspapers Dinakaran and Dina Thanthi. It is one of three English language dailies from Chennai, the Tamil Nadu capital. The New Indian Express and the Deccan Chronicle are the other two.

As KP Viswanatha Iyer, Assistant Editor, The Hindu, writing in the Madras Tercentenary Commemoration Volume, 1939, says, newspapers in the city “had their origin in the needs of the small but growing European Colony of the Presidency.” In “the first century of the city’s life, it had no newspapers,” yet to be born even in England.

The earliest newspapers of Madras were The Government Gazette, the Madras Gazette and the Madras Courier, all weeklies. They covered mainly news of the social life of the community. They also carried extracts from European newspapers, especially reports of parliamentary proceedings. The news was often hopelessly out of date, thanks to the erratic steamer service between Europe and India. The months between October and December were particularly slack periods.

Modern journalism of Madras was a byproduct of politics, political newspapers coming to be established towards the mid-nineteenth century, with The Spectator (1836), The Madras Times (1860) and The Madras Mail (1867) all established with a view to promoting European interests in the presidency. The Madras Times, which,  had a stormy existence before it was absorbed by The Mail, represented the European trader, the planter and the small merchant. The Madras Mail was aristocratic, supported by Europeans in the services and captains of commerce. It was modelled on the serious newspapers of England, ‘and under the Lawsons and Mr. Henry Beauchamp, reflected the mind of the European intellectual.’

The Madras Courier, established on 12 October 1785 and edited by Richard Johnson, was the first newspaper from Madras, while Maasa Dina Sarithai (1812), published by Gnanaprakasam, was the first Tamil magazine to be published in Madras, and perhaps the first periodical to be brought out in any Indian language, even before the Bengal Gazette (1816) published in English by Gangadhar Bhattacharjee, and the bilingual Dik Darshan (1818) in English and Bengali.

William Urquhart, the founder of The Madras Courier started it as an advertising half sheet in large types, known as the Commercial Circulator, in Stringer Street. Its young editor C H Clay, a clerk to the Chief Justice and Court Sealer, made it famous.

The first competition to the Courier came in 1793, in the form of the short-lived new publication, the Hircarrah, edited by a former Courier editor, Hugh Boyd. The Government Gazette—which from 1800 onwards was printed at the first Government Press—and the Madras Gazette (both 1795) were followed in 1836 by The Spectator—first published by D Ouchterlony and later by C Sooboo Moodely and
C M Pereira from the Spectator Press.

Started as a weekly, The Spectator became a daily in 1850, only to be taken over by the Madras Times (1835), the first paper from Madras to establish a strong journalistic tradition. The Madras Times, located in Broadway, benefited substantially from the cable link with England established in the year of its launch. A father and son pair called Gantz took over the paper in 1859. The paper went back to its 1835 beginnings as a biweekly, but appears to have had a chequered career till it began thriving under Charles Lawson and Henry Cornish in the 1860s. When they quit after a proprietor-editor dispute, the Madras Mail was born. Late in the 19th century the Times grew in power under the editorship of George Romilly. 


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