Media as catalyst of positive change

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Renuka Goel traces the history and evolution of Indian Media that has survived numerous trials and tribulations in the pre and post-independence period. After the economic reforms of the 90s, the country witnessed a technologically-driven Media revolution with foreign players entering the race.

Media has come a long way in India and continues to remain one of the most powerful tools of change and sensitisation in the Indian society. Among the older professions in the world, journalism has remained a strong pillar of democracy in most democracies, including India. The history of media in India is very old and interesting, to say the least.

Indian media has evolved and diversified very fast post independence. Today, it comprises myriad types of communication including newspapers, magazines, television, radio, web portals, etc. Media is a very effective weapon in catalysing change in society, ensuring accountability and protecting rights of the people.

Today, more than one lakh newspapers and magazines are published in the country. In terms of broadcast media, more than 400 channels in India show 24-hour news coverage which is also the highest in the world. Even social media or new media users in India have surpassed several nations with 56 crore social media users today.

State of Media before Independence

The story of media in India began in the late 18th century, before the nation gained independence. It was James Augustus Hickey who started The Bengal Gazette, the first newspaper in India, in 1780, under the British rule in India. Also known as the Calcutta General Advertiser, it was seized in 1872 for criticism of the government.Soon after, several newspapers and journals started publication including Bombay Herald, Calcutta Chronicle, The Bengal Journal, Madras Courier, etc.

Founded in 1822 by Fardunjee Marzban, Bombay Samachar is Asia’s oldest continuously published newspaper. Now called Mumbai Samachar, it is published in Gujarati and English. The newspaper was a weekly publication till 1832, became a bi- weekly later and since 1855 became a daily newspaper. It finally became one of western India’s premier newspapers read by Gujarati-speaking people in India and outside India too.

Founder of Bombay Samachar, Fardunjee Marzban was a visionary. He initiated several other Gujarati-printed literatures and founded the first native press in 1812. In 1814, this press brought out a Gujarati calendar. Udant Martand (meaning The Rising Sun) was the first Hindi newspaper published in India in 1826 in Calcutta.

The Bombay Samachar played a crucial role in India’s independent movement as it became a pedestal for freedom fighters to reach out to the masses. Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Pandit Nehru and more would often be quoted in this newspaper. Eventually, the papers came to be owned by the Cama family in 1933 that continue to remain its present publishers.

After India’s first war of independence in 1857, several local language newspapers mushroomed in the country but their reach was not deep enough to transverse to all the corners of the country. However, a few newspapers in the UK did publish reports on India’s first spell of freedom struggle in 1857. At the time, such news would first be delivered to Bombay and then to London and it would be several weeks before the news would make it to the newspapers. For example, India’s first war of independence that started on 10 May 1857 appeared in the British newspaper The Illustrated London News on 13 June.

On 18 July 1857, UK newspaper Illustrated Times carried a lengthy article about the first freedom struggle of India. Soon after the 1857 revolt, as more newspapers started being published by Indians, the British government started tightening the noose around them by enforcing censorship.

Media in Post-Independence India

After independence from the British in 1947, several English language newspapers continued to remain in circulation and enjoyed popularity in India. Several reasons contributed to the phenomenon including the fact that typesetting speed was much slower in Indian languagesas opposed to the English language.

At the time of independence, there were over 200 daily newspapers in the country. Soon after, media charted a growth path in sync with that of the nation. When India’s High Commissioner to Britain VK Krishna Menon signed a deal ‘to buy some old Jeeps for the army for Rs 80 lakh’ in 1948, he did not take the government’s permission for the same. It was independent India’ first tryst with a ‘scam’ and was widely reported by the media then.

In 1975, when the-then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed the emergency in India, she snatched away the freedom of the press in the process. More than 3,800 newspapers were confiscated, hundreds of journalists were jailed and government advertisements were withdrawn from several newspapers. At the same time, accreditation of many foreign journalists was cancelled and several were denied entry into the country.

A few editors from Delhi though, despite the curb on the freedom of the press, supported the Prime Minister’s move of emergency and the ensuing censorship on newspapers.

Present status of print media

Indian media is among the oldest in the world. Today, most media houses are controlled and owned by large, profit-driven corporations and groups.
As of 31 March 2018, over 1,00,000 publications registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI). Office of the Registrar of the Newspapers for India, popularly known as Registrar of Newspapers for India, is a Government of India statutory body of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for the registration of the publications, such as newspapers and magazines, India. It was founded in 1956 on the recommendation of the First Press Commission in 1953 and by amending the Press and Registration of Books Act 1867.

Other media platforms

Radio broadcasting initiated in India in 1927 and was soon taken over by the government. In 1937, it was called All India Radio and since 1957 it has been called Akashvani. Television programming began in 1959 with limited duration broadcast in the beginning, followed by complete broadcasting starting in 1965. It was television channel Doordarshan that was the only broadcaster at the time. Doordarshan is an autonomous public service broadcaster founded by the Government of India in 1959.

Doordarshan was part of the national broadcaster, All India Radio till 1976 when it transited to become a separate Department in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, though still serviced by All India Radio, especially for its news. In the decades to follow, audio-visual media were used extensively by the government for mass education especially in rural India. After the economic reforms in 1990s, foreign satellite television channels such as BBC, CNN, and CNBC entered India and in 1993, Rupert Murdoch entered the Indian market too. At the time, 47 million households in India had a television set at home.

In the 90s, during the time of some of the biggest scams in India such as the Bofors scandal, the stock market fraud and the fodder scam, it were the newspapers reporting on the scams mostly. The monopoly soon diffused with the introduction of private satellite channels in India. Zee News was India’s first private channel that came into existence in 1995 and soon after many other joined the brigade.

It was in November 2006 when Indian government released the community radio policy allowing agricultural centres, educational institutions and civil society organisations to apply for a community-based FM broadcasting licence. Around the same time, starting 2000, online and digital publishing gained stronghold in India. Several print publications introduced digital versions in order to keep pace with the fast-evolving and technologically-enabled media industry.


Renuka Goel

Renuka Goel works with DraftCraft International as a Media Researcher and writes mostly on issues affecting the Fourth Estate. She likes reading contrarian literature and analysing sources of news)

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