History of Bengali Journalism

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee
Professor and Head of the Institute
Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC)
Sanchar Marg, Dhenkanal-759001, Orissa (India)

Bengal, especially Calcutta (presently Kolkata) was the cradle of journalism in India. The first newspaper of India Hickey's Bengal Gazette was published in Kolkata in 1780. So were the first four non-English newspapers- in Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and Persian. Several language newspapers owe their birth to Kolkata in some form or the other; for example the Oriya types were manufactured in Serampore, a suburb of Kolkata.

The year 1818 marks the beginning of Bengali journalism. Samachar Darpan was the first newspaper in Bengali language. It was published by Serampore Mission press on May 23, 1818. Started by missionaries Carey and Marshman, it began as a monthly, but soon converted into a weekly. It carried both Indian and foreign news. It became bilingual in 1829 carrying Bengali and English news in parallel columns. After surviving a number of crises, it closed down in 1852.

Digdarshan was also published in 1818. In 1821 a remarkable Bengali journal Sambad Kaumadi was published under the patronage of Rammohan Roy. But it did not survive for long.

Sambad Pravakar was the first Bengali daily newspaper published in 1839, patronized by Iswar Chandra Gupta. It was followed by Tattobodhini, published by Akhya Kumar Dutta in 1843. 

The other Bengali journals during this time were Samachar Chandrika, Bangadoot, Sambad Pravakar, Vividhartha Sangrah (1851), Masik Patra (1854),  and Som Prakash (1851).

The first weekly within the territory of today's Bangladesh, Rangpur Bartabaha, was published in 1847 from Rangpur and the first weekly from Dhaka, Dacca News, was published in 1856. The long lasting Dhaka Prakash was first published in 1861 and Dhaka Darpan in 1863.

They early Bengali papers took up the cause of the oppressed workers in the indigo plantation, and of the peasants. Notable among them were the Som Prakash, the Grambartha Prakashika and the Amrita Bazar Patrika (before it became an English weekly). They created problems for the government with their exposure of the exploitation of labour in plantations and on the fields, and violent denunciation of the European planters and the government. In the course of this campaign, a number of newspapers were started in villages and districts. The press and machinery used to print them were of the crudest type and the publisher and editor conducted the journals almost as family business. But despite the questionable quality of the 'product', it did achieve one remarkable feat: establish the credential of the newspaper as a powerful force. Bengali journalism also carried the message of Bengal renaissance. Most of them actively sought social and cultural reform. However, there were some, who opposed the reforms resulting in a social churning which is the hall mark of any renaissance.

The Bengali press was a terror to the British administration and all the drastic press laws were particularly aimed against them. It had powerful editors and writers who reached out to the masses in the distant villages with their clarion call to fight against injustice, racial prejudice and maladministration. They were the earliest to demand self-Government and assail the Moderate leaders of the nationalist movement with timidity and lack of courage to demand what was the birthright of Indians. The Bengali Press suffered the most in the reprisals launched by the Government after the mutiny in 1857.

Till the 80s of the nineteenth century Bengal was the hub of newspaper publication. A survey of the Indian Language Press by Sir George Campbell in 1876 showed that half of the total number of 38 newspapers was published from Kolkata. However, by end 19th century newspapers have started publishing from all across the country.

End 19th century saw some remarkable newspapers coming out from Bengal. The Sulava Samachar of the Indian Reform Association was started in 1870 by Keshab Chandra Sen. It was a weekly, priced one pice per copy. It had a circulation of 3,500 copies and was the most popular weekly of the period. Another journal which was also popular was the Haishakar Patrika edited by Babu Kisari Mohan Ganguli. The first newspaper to espouse the cause of the working class, Bharat Sharmajibi, was started as a weekly at about this time. The first Bengali daily to adopt modern methods of production was the Basumati (1880) which was edited by Krishna Kamal Bhattacharya. Surendranath Banerejee published Bengalee. The editor of Bengalee faced contempt of court proceedings and imprisonment when it voiced public indignation in 1883 against a High Court Judge who ordered Hindu idols to be produced in court as evidence. The paper which became a daily in 1900 was the first language paper to subscribe to Reuter's foreign news service. Through the Bande Mataram, another important newspaper of this period Aurobindo Ghose proclaimed his philosophy and the "new Path" which meant passive resistance as an instrument of political action. An associate of the Bengalee was the Nayak (1908), published by Panch Cowrie Bannerjee. In 1922 came the Ananda Bazar  Patrika, started by Mrinal Kanti Ghosh, Prafulla Kumar Sarkar and  Suresh Chandra Majumdar. Together with its English counterpart, Hindustan Standard, it played a glorious role in the freedom movement. Another daily Jugantar, was started in 1937 by the management of the Amrita Bazar Patrika. After Gandhi took over the leadership of the national movement, the Bangalee and Nayak which were the organs of the Moderates, lost ground rapidly in spite of official support because of the tremendous pressure exerted by C. R. Das who was the undisputed Congress leader in Bengal.

Bengali papers suffered after the partition in 1947 because they lost a good slice of their readers in the new East Pakistan, which in 1971 became a new independent country: Bangladesh. Notable newspapers started in the first two decades after the independence included Loksevak (1948) and Jansevak owned by the Congress leader, Atulay Ghosh.

Among the doyen of Bengali journalism, mention must be made of Chapala Kanta Bhattacharya, who was the editor of the Ananda Bazar Patrika and was president of the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference and Hemandra Prasad Ghosh, who started the Basumati in 1914. Hemendra Prasad Ghosh was a member of the Editors' delegation which visited the war front in 1918. He had the distinction of being a pioneer in establishing an exclusive news services for his paper. Vivekananada Mukherjee was one of the greatest newspaper editors of Bengal. Under him Jugantar scaled great heights.

The Bengali press today is the third largest numerical group after Hindi and English. There were 1662 newspapers in 1984 as against 1583 in 1983. Of them 52 are dailies and 433 weeklies. By 2007-8 the total number of number grew to 3244 as per RNI, of which 125 were dailies.

As per the Indian Readership Survey Q2 for the year 2011 results the five most read Bengali newspapers were: Anand Bazar Patrika1 (Redership: 59.92 lakh), Bartaman2 (29.63 lakh), Sangbad Pratidin3 (9.58 lakh), Ganashakti4 (7.9 lakh) and  Aajkal5  (6.28 lakh)

Calcutta was the second place in India to have a radio station after Bombay. In British India broadcasting started in June 1923 with programmes by the Radio Club of Bombay, followed by other radio clubs. Then, by an agreement of 1926 the private Indian Broadcasting Company (IBC) was granted permission to operate two radio stations; the Bombay station was inaugurated on 23 July 1927, the Calcutta station followed on 26 August 1927.

Calcutta had its first Television station (named Doordarshan) in 1975. In June, 1984, Calcutta Doordarshan entered the world of colour transmission.  By mid 2011 there were over 15 stations of All India Radio in West Bengal. There were over 20 private radio stations in West Bengal including Radio Mirchi, Radio One, Red FM (Kolkata, Asansol and Siliguri), Big, Friends, Power, Aamar, Fever, Radio Meow, Radio Misty, High and Nine  (Siligudi). There were three campus radio stations in SRFTI, Jadavpur University and Netaji Subhas Open Univeristy.

By mid-2011, there were about 15 satellite television channels airing Bengali news programmes including Doordarshan, ETV(Bangla), Channel 106, Star Ananda7 , News Time, Kolkata TV8, Tara Newz9, 24 Ghanta10, Mahuaa Khobor11, Ne Bangla, CTVN Plus12, R Plus13, etc.

1 founded in 1922
2 Established in 1984.
3 founded in 1992
4 It is owned by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-CPM, West Bengal State committee and acts as its mouthpiece
5 First published in 1981
6 http://www.channel10.co.in/
7 www.staranandalive.com
8 www.tv9.net/tv9westbengal/home_wb.html
9 www.taratv.com
10 www.24ghanta.com
11 mahuaakhobor.com
12 www.ctvn.co.in
13 www.rplusnews.com


   Published on IndianFaculty.com: 18/10/2011

 Source: E-mail 18/10/2011

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