Newspapers and Periodicals

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Newspapers and Periodicals emerged first in Bengal from the last quarter of the 18th century. At official level, there were systems to collect information of the kingdom from the very ancient time. According to Kautilya, government employees of a certain category were assigned to report to the royal court all news collected from the country. Historians also mentioned about newsletters, royal notifications and other modes of communication during the Mughal period. There was at least one Wakia Nabis in each district whose responsibility was to send details and compilations of important events in the area to the royal court.

But according to the modern definition of newspapers, the era of institutional newspapers in the subcontinent began with the publication of Bengal Gazette or Calcutta General Advertiser, an English weekly of two pages, by James Augustus Hicky from calcutta on 29 January 1780. His printing press, set up in 1778 at a cost of Rs 2,000, used to print the Bengal Gazette. During the next six years, four periodicals appeared in Calcutta: Calcutta Gazette (February 1784), Bengal Journal (through government initiative in February 1785), Oriental Magazine of Calcutta Amusement (April 1785) and Calcutta Chronicle (February 1786). A notable trend during the period from 1780 to the second decade of the nineteenth century was strict administrative control over the press. The government was not ready to tolerate any criticism. Hicky's press was closed and sold out in 1782. The editor of Bengal Journal was put behind the bars. William Duane, a New Englander and the editor of Indian World was arrested in 1794 and forcibly sent back to England by ship. The proprietor of Bengal Harkara Charles Maclean (1798), the editor of Calcutta Journal James Silk Buckingham (1823), his successor Arnott (1823) and many others also met the same fate due to their strong anti-government attitude.

The contents of the newspapers of the time were influenced by Hicky. Foreign news, parliamentary debate, quotations from English magazines, news of local community, letters to the editor, official notice, poets' corner, advertisements and news about fashion were imitated from Hicky's Gazette. Very few news items dwelt on people and society of the country.

Newspapers published from Calcutta up to 1818 were in English and edited and managed by the Europeans. Monthly Digdarshan was the first magazine published in Bengali in April 1818. This was brought out by the serampore mission. Another Bengali weekly newspaper Samachar Darpan was also brought out by the missionaries of Serampore in May 1818. This was edited by John Clarke Marshman. It lasted for about twenty years. bengal gazette, the first newspaper under Bengali ownership, was brought out in 1818. Its publisher was Gangakishore Bhattacharya or, according to some, Gangadhar Bhattacharya. Although occasionally, it contained items in English and Hindi, its language was generally Bengali. In editing, Harachandra Roy was the principal associate of Gangakishore. On 1 May 1819, the Calcutta Journal edited by James Silk Buckingham was transformed from a bi-weekly to a daily. It was the first daily newspaper of the subcontinent.

Most newspapers during 1780-1846 were brought out from Calcutta, the capital and heartland of art, literature, trade and commerce. The geographic entity, which is now Bangladesh, was then an underdeveloped area with a very low literacy rate and weak communication network. Facilities for printing were absent. Despite these handicaps, the first weekly in the territory of the present-day Bangladesh Rangpur Bartabaha, was published in 1847 from the district town of Rangpur. Its patron was the zamindar of Kundi Kalicharan Roy.

The first English weekly brought out in 1856 from Dhaka was the dhaka news edited by A R Forbes. In 1860-61, at least four weekly or monthly magazines were published from the then East Bengal: Rangpur Dikprakash (from Kakina of Rangpur), Kobita Kusumabali (Dhaka), Monpanjika (Dhaka) and dhaka prakash the first Bangla weekly from East Bengal. In 1873, there were 38 periodicals in Bengal, of which 10 were published from East Bengal. These were Bangabandhu, Dhaka Prakash, Mohapap and Balyabibaha from Dhaka; Gram Doot, Balaranjika, Hitasandhani and Barisal Barta from Barisal; Hindu Ranjika from Rajshahi and Rangpur Dikprakash from Rangpur. The famous Amrita Bazar Patrika appeared from Jessore in 1868. Due to spread of malaria in the area it was moved to Calcutta in 1871. The Bengal Times, an English bi-weekly of high quality was brought out from Dhaka in 1876. At least ten newspapers were published from different places of East Bengal at the end of the nineteenth century. Most newspapers were under Hindu ownership. The Muslim community, lagging behind in literacy, was slow to enter the newspaper world.

The potential for high growth of newspapers in East Bengal was laid between 1900 and 1947, when there occurred a national resurgence with intense political activism. The first daily from East Bengal was Jyoti from Chittagong and it appeared first on 5 August 1921. Dainik in 1929, Daily Rashtrabarta in 1930, Daily Azan in 1936, and Daily Purba Pakistan in 1946 were also published from this part of Bengal. During this period (1900-1947), about 65 out of a total of 173 newspapers published from Bengal used to be printed from Eastern Bengal. Most newspapers were opinion-oriented and dealt with literature, socio-cultural issues, reform and religion. Even during the early days of Pakistan, the newspaper industry in East Bengal was merely crossing its missionary phase. Due to post-partition emigration of a large number of Hindus to India, a serious vacuum arose in the newspaper industry.

The first newspaper to appear from East Bengal after Partition of Bengal (1947) was Paigam, edited by Faiz Ahmed Chowdhury. It was first brought out from Chittagong on 18 August 1947. At the same time, a bi-weekly Zindegi was brought out from Dhaka. The Dainik Azad, edited by Moulana Akram Khan and published from Calcutta since 1936, was moved to Dhaka in 1948. In 1949, the Pakistan Observer (later the Bangladesh Observer) was published from Dhaka. Two other newspapers, Dainik Ittefaq and Dainik Sangbad, were brought out in 1949 and 1951 respectively. These still occupy a prominent place as pioneer newspapers in Bangladesh. These were followed by Dainik Pakistan (later Dainik Bangla), Purba Desh and Morning News. The newspaper industry was adversely affected by the chaotic and uncertain situation prevailing after the Partition of Bengal. The newspapers were hesitant and apprehensive and the older ones started to close down one after another. In eight years between 1947 and 1954, the number of newspapers and periodicals declined from 259 to 160. Before 1971, there were 29 dailies, 3 bi-weeklies and 109 weeklies.

The newspaper industry received a heavy jolt during the war of liberation in 1971. During 25-31 March, offices and presses of three daily newspapers - The People, Dainik Ittefaq and Sangbad - were burnt down by the Pakistani army in course of their operation. The resumption of their publication took some time even after the War of Liberation was over. Many newspapers were under constant surveillance of the Pakistani occupation forces during the war. A number of periodicals were, however, published from the liberated areas. Notable were Shasswata Bangla, Swadhin Bangla, Joy Bangla, Sonar Bangla, Banglar Bani, Biplobi Bangla, The Nation, Mukta Bangla, The People, Durjay Bangla, Mukti and Ekota. These periodicals played a significant role in raising the morale of the people and the freedom fighters in their struggle for independence. In fact, these were setting new trends in the realm of journalism of Bangladesh. The newspapers started to reorganise themselves. Provisions relating to the freedom of the newspapers were incorporated in the Constitution of the country. The industry recorded perceptible improvements both quantitatively and qualitatively. Mofussil-based journalism received a new fillip.

Before 16 December 1971, there were ten newspapers in Bangladesh. After liberation, the owners of Dainik Pakistan and Morning News of the Pakistan Press Trust and The Pakistan Observer, Purbodesh, and Chitrali were absentees and the new government took over their management. Ministry of Information ran these newspapers through a management board. In 1972, the news-based weekly magazine Bichitra was launched as a Dainik Bangla publication. In February 1974, the Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Services) Act was introduced. On 16 June 1975, the government banned the publication of all newspapers except four dailies: Dainik Ittefaq, Dainik Bangla, Bangladesh Observer and Bangladesh Times.

After the assassination of bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman on 15 August 1975, many newspapers that were banned earlier started to reappear. Bangladesh Press Council and the Press Institute of Bangladesh were established. During the period between 1982 and 1989, the newspapers were kept under strict control. Around fifty newspapers and periodicals were closed down on grounds of publishing materials critical of the government. A new weekly Jai Jai Din published since 1984 greatly influenced the make-up, presentation and other attributes of weekly magazines. After the fall of the Ershad regime through a mass upsurge in December 1990, the caretaker government headed by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed repealed articles 16, 17 and 18 of the Special Powers Act relating to censorship and banning of publications. Amendments were also made in the Printing Press and Publications Act to eliminate provisions that curbed freedom of the press. A record number of newspapers and periodicals representing different shades of opinion were brought out during the 1990s. A noteworthy event was the closure of the government-owned Dainik Bangla, Bangladesh Times and Weekly Bichitra in 1997 and abolition of the Times-Bangla Trust.

The daily newspapers from Dhaka are mostly broadsheets but most of those from the districts are tabloids. In the 1980s, most dailies and weeklies took to desktop publishing technology. Usually, the dailies are printed on offset rotary machines. Printing of colour photographs in daily newspapers started in 1995. Some important dailies published in the 1990s are Ittefaq, Janakantha, Inquilab, Ajker Kagoj, Bhorer Kagoj, Banglabazar Patrika, Mukta Kantha, Prothom Alo, Bangladesh Observer, Daily Star, Financial Express, Independent and New Nation. Prominent among the dailies brought out from the district towns include Dainik Azadi and Dainik Purbokone from Chittagong, Dainik Karatoa from Bogra, Dainik Purbanchal from Khulna and Jugobheri from Sylhet. In addition to Bichitra and Jai Jai Din, notable periodicals that were published after independence include Holiday, Robbar, Sachitra Sandhani, Purnima, Dhaka Courier, Khaborer Kagoj, Agamee and Shailee. Women's magazine Begum is being published since the Pakistan period. Fortnightly Ananya, another women's journal, is being published since 1987. Periodicals concentrating on cinema, recreation, sports, trade and commerce, technology, development, society, economy, mass media, healthcare, crime and cartoon have been gaining in popularity.

News agencies play an important role in promoting journalism in the country. The government organisations, which have institutional linkage with the news media, are Bangladesh Press Council, Press Institute of Bangladesh, Department of Films and Publications, Press Information Department, and External Publicity Wing. Among these, the Department of Films and Publications is engaged in bringing out government publications, registration of periodicals, distribution of government advertisements, auditing of newspaper circulation and allocation of newsprint. The Press Information Department is entrusted with the task of press coverage of governmental activities.

The newspaper industry operates under relevant Articles of the country's Constitution and the Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Official Secrets Act, the Special Powers Act, the Printing Press and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act, the Telegraph Act, the Post Office Act, the Foreign Relations Act, and the Copyright Ordinance.

Although there are no reliable data on the circulation of newspapers and periodicals, the average circulation of the daily newspapers and periodicals in 1997 was estimated at 2,237,960 and 987,810 respectively. According to official government figures, a total of 412 dailies and 712 periodicals were published in 2008. More than 90 percent of these were in Bengali language.

Most of the dailies and leading weeklies have on-line editions. Many readers both from home and abroad can read there newspapers and periodicals through various website in the Internet.

Although over 1,000 dailies and periodicals are published in the country, as per the findings conducted in 2008, only about 25% of the population read a newspaper/periodical once a week. The readership in the urban areas is comparatively higher at about 43%, while the rate in the rural areas is very low only about 16%. For weekly magazine it is 3%. According to a study conducted by the press institute of bangladesh in 1998, only 12% of the readership considers newspapers to be credible and about 55% believe that there is a freedom of expression. The factors behind of less confidence include government intervention, pre-censorship, political pressure, obstacles put forward by different quarters, lack of neutral outlook and dependence of newspapers on government advertisements. [Golam Rahman and Helal Uddin Ahmed]