Newspaper industry: India

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Bengal Gazette / James Augustus Hickey

A backgrounder

4 November 2013: Mass Communication

As Compared to current newspapers, Hickey’s Gazette was smaller in size. It was twelve inches in length and seven inches in breadth. It had only two sheets with three columns on each page and was printed on both sides of the pages.
From: 4 November 2013: Mass Communication

Hickey Bengal Gazette was an English newspaper published from Calcutta, India. It was the first newspaper of the sub-continent and started in 1780. It was a Weekly Political and Commercial Paper, Open to all Parties, but influenced by none. It was founded by James Augustus Hickey. It also known as “Calcutta General Advertiser & Bengal Gazette”. It published in English language. The newspaper soon became very famous not only people but among the British soldiers posted in India at that time. It was an inspiration for the Indians to launch newspaper of their own. James hickey was deadly opposed to East India Company and started gazette to take revenge from East India Company. Hickey Bengal Gazette was full of advertisements. The paper ceased publication on March 23, 1782. It was published just for two years.


James Hickey called the father of Indian journalism. As he was the first person who dare to launch a newspaper under British raj, at that time no one could even think to launch newspaper and wrote against the government but he did it. He was the fearless champion of journalism in India because he left a courage and bravery among the Indian journalists.

Hickey believed the liberty of the press to be the very existence of a free government. In early stages he was the employ of east India Company. He was fired by the authorities. He was a printer in East India Company and knew that how to print that’s why he decided to launch a newspaper.

James Hickey was not a professional journalist. According to his own statement he had not even any interest in newspaper writing but he made his body slave to get the relief of his mind and soul. He picked up journalism as a profession just the sake of his burning heart.

Hickey was a brave and daring person. He was not afraid of anyone. He wrote against East India Company openly. His way of writing was very impressive and bold. He had never mentioned the name of person who was being criticised but his way of writing was very clear, he used to present different character and criticize them and people can easily understand that which character is for whom and what was he wanted to show.


It was a weekly newspaper, and was founded on January 29, 1780, in Calcutta, the capital of British India. Hickey Gazette started from Calcutta because East India Company established her first. This newspaper started in the year 1780 under the British rule. Hickey was the editor of that newspaper. He was a pioneer in bringing the start of journalistic activities in the country.


The Gazette had most of the news items and contents from England and also from the sanction for letters from readers and items of gossip and scandals. Hickey had a personal column of his own in the Gazette through which he directly communicated to the citizens which succeeded in arousing desirable sentiments in the public.

The governor general Warren Hastings and the Chief Justice Elijah Empery were often ridiculed by him using ambiguities.

Once he was imprisoned for 1 year and fined Rs /2000. Despite his imprisonment the Gazette continued to be published before it had to be permanently closed down two years after it was started.


Bengal Gazette’s motto was:

“A Weekly Political and Commercial Paper, Open to all Parties, but influenced by none.”


As Compared to current newspapers, Hickey’s Gazette was smaller in size. It was twelve inches in length and seven inches in breadth. It had only two sheets with three columns on each page and was printed on both sides of the pages. Its circulation was limited not exceeding 200 copies.


There was three main purposes behind the opening of newspaper.

1-He wanted to take revenge from East India Company.

2-To aware the people about their basic rules and their own rights and the exploitation of east India company.

3-To show them the real faces of East India Company.


The editor spoke, rather wrote, directly to the readers. In a large number of letters published, praises were showered on the efforts of Hickey. There was a space for poets, named the Poets Corner. Advertisements mainly about auctions were printed and the articles, which were entitled ‘London Fashions’ Folly of a Fashionable Life’ and ‘Evils that Arise from French Refinements’ reminded us of the papers like The Tattler of Richard Steele and The Spectator of Joseph Addison and was moral in tone. Some stories of scandals, love affairs, local gossip were also accommodated to hold a mirror to the life of the European community in Calcutta. Full reporting was occasionally done of the balls and dances.

Hickey’s boldness has proved one great truth about Indian journalism ‘Better break than break’. Journalists may be harassed, attacked or imprisoned, but journalism does not only the first in a long line of Anglo-Indian newspapers. It is to the stalwart Raja Ram Mohan Roy, to whom goes the credit of being called the father of Indian Journalism. Hickey died a paper. But he left a very rich cultural heritage for Indian journalists. The credit of being the first journalist goes to William Bolts, a Dutch writer who found his way to India after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. But it was left to James Augustus Hickey to start a full-fledged newspaper. Hickey’s sense of humor and funniness was one of the positive aspect of the newspaper because it developed more interest in the readers. People got pleasure and recreation as well the news.

Although it was first newspaper even though it had advertisements. In this age the reading of newspaper considered a very good and respectful work. Besides the ministers and the English men common people also buy this newspaper and also spent money to reading it from the others. People believe on all the news published in this newspaper. It set the trend of newspaper.

It was great inspiration for those who wanted to launch newspaper and after the rise of newspapers in sub-continent, they played a great role in freedom movement against British rule.


Public engagements were also announced and many scandalous stories were served in a palatable way. Nicknames were given to the notables of the European community of Calcutta. Thus the Gazette was a kind of moral monitor of Hickey’s in which his aim was ‘Criticize British values’ a tool to ridicule the manners of the persons he disliked. He was sterner than Sheridan in his The School for Scandal. Characters like Erma Wrentham, ‘the coinsure Belle’, a gossip reminding us of Sheridan Mrs. Candor or Buxom Clumsy like Sheridan’s Crabtree or Benjamin Backbite abound in the Gazette.

The Gazette was also a social document as it exposed the unlawful method of accumulation of vast wealth by the Company traders. Some assertions regarding the sale of a slave boy, a ‘South African kefir’, were also found. As with all newspapers, the Gazette also played the ant-establishment role and very soon incurred the wrath of Warren Hastings, the then Governor General and others in the administration including Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Another rival paper was the India Gazette, which made Hickey furious and unhappy especially when he came to know that postal concession was given to the paper. Hickey criticized the publishers for influencing Lady Hastings in getting this advantage. Hereafter, the articles of Hickey against the government were more malicious and sarcastic and even vulgar. Hickey irked Warren Hastings so much that a case of defamation was filed against him. Hickey was even imprisoned. Then four fresh cases were filed and equipment’s were seized without caring for the fact that this was a blow to the freedom of the Press. To achieve specific goal he used vulgar and abusive language, he used to write absurd poems which is unethical thing.


January 29 is a red letter day in the history of the Indian press. It is on this day in 1780 that an Irishman settled in India brought out a newspaper, marking the birth of journalism in this country. James Augustus Hicky, the pioneer, started the weekly newspaper basically to counter the nuisance of public announcements through peons and the distribution of hand bills in a growing commercial town like Calcutta.

In order to gauge the reactions of the authorities, Hicky brought out a prospectus and expressed his intentions to bring out a newspaper for the benefit of the public. Initially, he did not attract any wrath from the officials as he was polite in his appeal. When he brought out a two-page weekly, about twelve inches by eight, on Saturday, January 29, 1780, he created history in the Indian subcontinent.

The East India Company, which was ruling the country, was not favourably disposed to the press; the officials of the Company were suspicious of journalists and newspapers from the very beginning. The officials were intolerant of any kind of criticism. The notional support that the press in India got emanated from the control of press by the Englishmen who drew strength from the power of press in England.

James Augustus Hicky started Bengal Gazette, a two-sheet newspaper that publicised the private lives of the 'sahibs' of the Company. It was almost a one man show. Hicky did not have any editorial support. Most of the editorial content was based on the newspapers that reached Calcutta after almost six to eight months. He freely reproduced all the major developments in England and Europe including the discussions in House of Commons.

It was almost a one man show. Hicky did not have any editorial support. Most of the editorial content was based on the newspapers that reached Calcutta after almost six to eight months. He freely reproduced all the major developments in England and Europe including the discussions in House of Commons.

The company officials disliked Hicky’s writings from the very beginning. When the scurrilous and vulgar write-ups continued unabated, the postal facilities extended to Hicky’s newspaper were withdrawn. This angered him further. He declared that the “Governor’s action was the strongest proof of arbitrary power. I would not bend before the official storm.

Hicky’s Gazette was like holding a mirror to the life of European community in Calcutta, as the paper published a detailed account of their social life, but laced with a touch of broad humour and satire. It contained stories of scandals, love affairs, local gossips and duels. No wonder its readers found the Gazette very entertaining, describing it as a "witty and scurrilous" paper there was nothing to stop Hicky from writing malicious, vulgar and sarcastic articles against the government. The Bengal Gazette started printing imaginary concerts and plays, where he assigned suggestive parts to Warren Hastings calling him "The Great Moghul", "Sir F. Wronghead", "Dictator" and made him sing a song (in paper, of course) entitled "Know then, War is my pleasure.

He started bitter attack on all top officers of the company and did not spare the family members of Governor General and the Chief Justice. Both administration and judiciary were furious with Hicky. He was arrested and brought before the court on several cases. As he could not pay Rs 80,000 as bail, he was put behind bars. Several defamation cases were filed against the paper and Hicky was convicted in all of them. Though he was in jail, he had made arrangements for the publication of his weekly.

Hicky and Hastings were not on good terms with each other. Hicky was habitually, and with malice and ridicule, reporting and giving publicity to the social life of the European community in Kolkata. While announcing marriages and engagements, he also published news of engagements anticipated and he utilized this to hit those he disliked. This behaviour was also creating big problems for him later on.

After giving him long tether for considerable time, and ignoring the suggestions of strong action against Hickey from the members of his Council, Hastings finally took action against him for defamation on two counts in June, 1781. Hicky was convicted and sentenced to two years' imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2,000. The Chief Justice awarded damages to Hastings of Rs. 500 but Hastings waived it. Although Hicky was in prison, his paper continued to appear regularly, and mysteriously his column too appeared in the same defiant tone.

The paper had great public support. Hastings took action second time in March, 1782. This resulted in confiscation of his types: on appeal to the Clerk of King, the King's judges released his types. This decision was hailed by Hicky as protecting the liberty of the press. But that was the end of Hicky's Gazette, which had barely a life of two years.

Hicky had done some printing job for the Company—he printed on order 16,800 sheets—and submitted bill for value of Rs. 35,092. The authorities said that the full number of sheets were not supplied and the printing was also defective. The payment, was approved for only Rs. 6,711. Hicky wrote about his claim to Hastings. Hastings ordered payment of Rs. 6,711 on the condition that he gave acquittal for all demands that is for full and final payment. Hicky was adamant as before and insisted on full payment. So, he did not accept the offer. Towards the end of his life, Hicky consented to the offer of lower payment due to extreme penury faced by his large family while he was in prison, but it took long time to get the money.

If Hicky was indomitable, Hastings was equally, if not more, revengeful. With the aid of the Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Elizah Impey, he resolved to kill Hicky's paper. He instituted suit after suit against Hicky and at last succeeded in crushing both the paper and its editor.

These was all the problems faced by the hickey during publishing his newspaper and after he lost everything his paper reached at its end and die.


Hickey was the pioneer of the journalism and also the newspaper in the sub-continent. After coming the hickey’s gazette other people also taking interest for publishing the news paper.

Hickey used the very rash language for the others and he also taken revenge so other people thoughts that newspaper is a good tool for blaming and avenge other. It was just beginning after this newspaper there were a huge number of newspaper published in the history of sub-continent After coming the public newspapers people were come to know about their rights and they felt that they have become prisoner in their own country.

And through these newspapers our leaders brought revolution and Indian massed got freedom.


After coming the hickey’s gazette people were very exciting to read it and know about it, when the British government felt the issues they were facing due to hickey they planned to stop hickey.

He was arrested and brought before the court on several cases. As he could not pay Rs 80,000 as bail, he was put behind bars. Several defamation cases were filed against the paper and Hicky was convicted in all of them. Once he pay two thousand and once five hundred. He captured many times and prisoned. After all that his financial condition were getting worst.

Although he was suffering from monetary problems he tried to publish his newspaper and he used to work alone so as to decrease expenditures.

Government banned his post service and then he used to go himself to distribute newspapers.

East India Company took advantage of his economy problem and to betray him they gave him a publishing contract. They gave him a small amount as an advance and after publishing they did not pay anything. Hickey suffer a loss of more than thirty thousand rupees. After the cheat of company he could not overcome his lost and the newspaper came to its end. After completion of his two year journey the paper ceased publication on March 23, 1782.


DEEPANKAR PRADHAN, James Augustus Hicky- “Pioneer Of Press In India”, May 17, 2018: Sikkim Express

History of Journalism in India began when James Augustus Hicky, a British citizen came to India to try out his luck in the 18th century. It is believed that he never had before succeeded in any of his ventures. At last, he decided to try his luck in the trade and publishing of a newspaper. He established a press and started a newspaper or a political magazine published every week called “Bengal Gazette” or “Calcutta General Advertiser”. It had two sheets of 12 inches by 8 inches size with three columns in each side, which more or less was adapted to the British newspaper style. It was predominantly meant for the British residents in the Settlements.

His cleverness and persuasiveness can be identified from the fact that, he was the first to secure permission to start a press and a newspaper, when administrators at that time were vehemently opposed to the idea of the same. They were afraid that the economic exploitation, plundering of wealth not just for the Company but for themselves and their corrupt practices could reach England. But Hicky’s Gazette was published primarily for the British residents of the Settlements who were extremely corrupt.

Turning Point

It was when Hicky in his Gazette published the private matter relating to adultery of the First Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings, things changed. This infuriated Warren Hastings and he was determined t crush Hicky. The Governor-General within ten months of the first appearance of the Gazette, promulgated following order:-

“Fort William, 14th November 1780. Public notice is given that a weekly newspaper called the “Bengal Gazette” or “Calcutta General Advertiser” printed by J.A. Hicky, has lately been found to contain several improper paragraphs tending to vilify private characters and to disturb the place of Settlement, it is no longer permitted to be circulated through the channel of the General Post Office”.

Undeterred by this, Hikcy became more determined and his quest for liberty and freedom of press aroused. He started delivering his newspapers locally in neighbouring areas through peons and messengers. In 1781, after cases had been filed in the Supreme Court by Governor-General, instructions were issued to arrest him. Armed man of around 400 barged his press to arrest him, but could not. The very next day he himself appeared before the Supreme Court and was arrested and put into prison as he had failed to deposit the bail amount of Rs. 80,000. Hicky from jail edited his Bengal Gazette and published many a journals, unperturbed. Also, due to the lack of any Press Law at that time he was not forbidden to do so. He was sentenced two years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2000. On another account, he was ordered to pay Warren Hastings Rs. 5000 as damages for libel. The bail amount of Rs. 80,000 was demanded on two counts during the trial. But due to his dire financial condition he was unable to do so. He even wrote a letter from Calcutta jail on 19th June 1781 to the Clerk of the Crown, pleading for his innocence and the injustice slapped upon him with such a heavy fine. His prayers were rejected.

Hicky still defying all odds and unperturbed continued to edit and publish his newspaper from jail. Hastings on the other hand was indomitable and with the aid of his friend, Sir Elija Impey, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court succeeded in crushing the newspaper and its editor, once and for all. This led to the end of India’s First Newspaper in 1782.

Hicky spent two years in jail and spent the rest of his life in aggrieved poverty. But James Augustus Hicky-“Papa of the Press” as mentioned by Lt. Mohit Moitra in A History of Indian Journalism, will be remembered forever, as the one who fought against tyranny, truth, unjust and liberty of the Press. He died with a pure soul and head held high. Hence, he will be remembered ever as the Founder of the Press in India.

Motive, not a profession

These four words correctly describe journalism like no other. True journalism starts with a mission, motive, if not to bring about social, democratic and economic change, but atleast simply to inform and convey with an unbiased heart, soul and mind. In absence of journalism and kind of technique/media of disseminating news among the masses, one could neither know nor realize the significance of any event. History, history of our nation could have been completely different if there were any form of journalism (newspaper) at the time of Battle of Plassey, 1757. It was this critical event which led to the domination of areas of Bengal, Orissa and Bihar. This eventually enabled them in securing a monopolistic trade in the goods and products of foreign country, exploitation of our people and plundering of our wealth not just for the Company but for themselves as well. And by 1800s, the British went unto become the paramount and disputed power in India. Had the general masses been informed beforehand of the cruel intentions of the British? Had there been beforehand detailed analysis, research, reporting and any form of newspaper binding our nation into one, history could have been altered.

It was only during the latter half of the 19th century, with the likes of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s- Kesari and Marattha, Mahatma Gandhi’s- Young India and Indian Opinion etc, its ultimate mission and motive was accomplished. “With great power comes great responsibility.”


James Augustus Hicky and the romance of India’s first paper, PRESS INSTITUTE INDIA

James Augustus Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, the first newspaper in Asia, was first published on 29th January, 1780. Hickey was aware of the dangers of printing a newspaper. In his early life in London’s printing industry, he had seen journalists punished and jailed. He resolved to avoid party politics and scandal that had spelt doom for so many journalists. He expressed a level of social consciousness that was well ahead of his time. R.V. Rajan unravels a fascinating story.

It all began during Warren Hastings’ second trip to Madras in 1769 to take up a job with the East India Company. Aboard The Duke of Grafton on which Hastings was travelling, there was a young couple, Baron Karl von Imhoff and his wife, Maria Chapuset. The Baron was a painter, and Maria, an attractive 22-year-old, was a woman of wit and intelligence. The combination appealed to the widower, Hastings.

A poor sailor, Hastings became progressively ill during the long nine-month voyage. Maria nursed him through it all. Her intelligent conversation during the time led to Maria Imhoff becoming Warren Hastings’ official hostess aboard the ship. Once in Madras, Hastings not only set up house for the Imhoffs but also moved close to them. After ten months in Madras and painting half the settlement, Imhoff wanted to try his luck in Calcutta – and the Council agreed. But Imhoff left his wife and son behind and Hastings visited them regularly till Maria sailed for Calcutta to join her husband in October 1771. His affair with Maria might have died a natural death but for the development that was to change his whole life. He was appointed Governor of Bengal.

By February 1772, Hastings was installed in Council House, Calcutta, to begin the most glorious years of his career. He regularly visited his small property in Alipore, near which the Imhoffs lived. It wasn’t long before the Imhoffs were once again supported by Hastings and all Calcutta was not only agog at the goings-on but also rife with rumours of bargains that the Baron and Governor were trying to strike. Whatever the truth behind the rumours, Calcutta had no doubt about the relationship between the Governor-General-designate, the first to hold that post in India, and the fashionable Baroness whose quaint English was so charming.

Official news finally reached Calcutta in 1777 that the Baron, who had been summoned to England by the Company, had been granted a divorce in June 1775 on grounds of incompatibility and being “an abandoned conjugal mate”. Then Warren Hastings surprised all Calcutta by marrying, on August 8, 1777, Anna Maria Appolonia Chapuset, the bride being given away by his former schoolmate and the then Chief Justice Sir Elijah Impey.

The Governor-General soon presented to Calcutta society, at a reception, Britain’s first First Lady of India, whom all Calcutta thereafter called his ‘governess’. “Beloved Marian” not only held his heart in thrall, but also had a “fixed ascendancy over his mind”. To please Marian was to gain the favour of the Governor-General. But the expression of favour on several occasions bordered on gross misuse of office.

The rumours about the corruption indulged in by Maria would have remained behind closed doors but for the crusading zeal of a man who may be considered modern India’s first journalist, a wild Irishman seeking fame and fortune – James Augustus Hicky, the founder of India’s first newspaper, the Bengal Gazette, in 1780.

This is the story of Hicky’s early years, of the forces that he came up against, how the corrupt authorities determined to stop him and his resourcefulness. The product of five years of research by Andrew Otis in the archives of India, UK and Germany, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India’s First Newspaper is an essential and compelling addition to the history of journalism in the Subcontinent.

After tiring of several jobs in England, Hicky decided to try his luck in India. He reached Calcutta in February 1773. His first job was to prescribe medicines, attend to bleeding patients and removing abscesses. Later, he borrowed money to begin a business, purchasing a small vessel to trade along the coast of India between Calcutta and Madras. Unfortunately, vessel and cargo were badly damaged in bad weather and he was in deep trouble, unable to return the loan taken from bankers. And on 20th October, 1776, he entered jail as a debtor.

The bankers had seized everything Hickey had – his ship, his house, even his furniture. Fortunately, an amount of Rs 2000 he had given to a trusted friend helped him put the skills in printing that he had learned earlier to good use.

Hicky began working from his hut in the jail, printing handbills, advertisements, almanacs, documents for the Supreme Court and even insurance forms. After many long months, he scraped together a few hundred rupees, enough to order a set of printing supplies from England. William Hicky, a lawyer in the Supreme Court, helped Hicky win his cases and get rid of all his debts, setting him free to begin a business that would launch him into prosperity.

While still in jail, Hicky had got a contract with the East India Company to print bills for the Army, etc. It was his first contract with the Company. He was the only printer in Calcutta at the time. Armed with this experience, he approached Sir Eyre Coote, the commander-in chief of the Company Army, for printing the new regulations which Coote hoped would lay the foundation for the Army’s Code of Conduct for years to come.

For Hicky, it was a huge order. He borrowed money for the project, hired assistants for the printing line, carpenters, blacksmiths and brass men to make equipment. But unfortunately, Coote left Calcutta after giving him the project. Since it was given to him without the knowledge of Governor General Warren Hastings, he found himself in trouble. Many officers were opposed to the printing of new regulations. They stymied him at every turn. He began to think of other ways to make money. He felt that he could be much more than a job printer, someone who could provide society with a useful service. He thought he could do this by bringing out a newspaper.

Hicky spent the next few days posting notices all over the city about the launch of his newspaper. He promised to revolutionise news reporting in India and act as a community bulletin board, where everyone could post and reply to advertisements. His proposal came at a perfect time as news was in great demand in Calcutta because of the ongoing wars in three continents which had disrupted trade. As the first journalist in India, he would have a monopoly over news and he could expect many subscribers among hundreds of European officers and thousands of British soldiers.

Hicky was aware of the dangers of printing a newspaper. In his early life in London’s printing industry he had seen journalists punished and jailed for what they published. He resolved to avoid party politics and scandal that had spelt doom for so many other journalists. In his proposal for his newspaper he promised “rigid adherence to truth and facts” and a commitment to not print anything that could “possibly convey the smallest offence to any single individual”.

Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, the first newspaper in Asia, was first published on 29th January, 1780. But Hicky soon realised that his promise to stay away from politics would be harder to keep than to make.

Hicky’s Bengal Gazette became a sensation within a few weeks of its launch. “As a novelty every person read it and was delighted,” wrote the lawyer, William Hicky. People were happy to have a newspaper. Printed on Saturdays, each issue had four pages and cost one rupee, similar in price to newspapers in England at the time. Hicky dedicated the first two or three pages to news and opinion letters, with the remainder being for advertisements. He saw his newspaper as a forum where people of many backgrounds could voice ideas for betterment of society. As promised, he avoided politics.

As Hicky ventured into more topics, he touched upon the role that women should fill in society. He was also unusual for his times, reporting on the poor and lower classes. He expressed a level of social consciousness that was well ahead of his time. Sometimes, he went a step further. His support of the poor would turn into criticism of the rich.

(The writer, former chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising, has authored a few books post-retirement. This is the first of a two-part series.)

July – September 2019

Excerpts from Otis’ India’s First Newspaper

Andrew Otis, Excerpt: Hicky’s Bengal Gazette; The Untold Story of India’s First Newspaper by Andrew Otis, June 1, 2018: Hindustan Times

The front page of India’s first newspaper, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, on 28 April, 1781.
From: Andrew Otis, Excerpt: Hicky’s Bengal Gazette; The Untold Story of India’s First Newspaper by Andrew Otis, June 1, 2018: Hindustan Times
Old Fort Ghat in Calcutta on the Hooghly River, werhe most new European arraivals would have landed. Painted by Thomas Daniell and published in Views of Calcutta (1786).
From: Andrew Otis, Excerpt: Hicky’s Bengal Gazette; The Untold Story of India’s First Newspaper by Andrew Otis, June 1, 2018: Hindustan Times
Map of Calcutta, 1784-85 by William Baillie. Hicky lived on the bottom right of the map, in Colinga. His printing shop was at 67 Radha Bazar, near the centre.
From: Andrew Otis, Excerpt: Hicky’s Bengal Gazette; The Untold Story of India’s First Newspaper by Andrew Otis, June 1, 2018: Hindustan Times

James Augustus Hicky’s ‘Bengal Gazette’ was India’s first newspaper. This excerpt, which features the chapter entitled ‘Open to All Parties, but Influenced by None’, presents Hicky’s character, interests and motivations

It had been ninety years since Calcutta was founded and his was the first.

Hicky’s Bengal Gazette was a sensation.

‘As a novelty every person read it, and was delighted.’ Hicky’s old lawyer, William Hickey, wrote.

People were happy to finally have a newspaper. Hicky tried to cover everything that might be important to Calcutta. He devoted many pages to politics, world news, and events in India. He encouraged people to write him letters and poems.

He tried to be witty and satirical. He gave nicknames to the city’s most colourful characters. One that stuck was ‘Nosey Jargon’, for the city’s surveyor and head of public works, Edward Tiretta. Tiretta, a talkative man who came from Italy and spoke an odd amalgam of English, French, Portuguese, and Hindustani, had a reputation for being flamboyant, minueting his handsome physique in crimson suits of rich velvet, even in the heat of summer. Hicky poked fun at Tiretta for being a ‘nosey jargon’— an overly inquisitive jabberer — and jabbed at Tiretta’s reputation, writing that Tiretta had a ‘happy Turn for Excavations and Diving into the Bottom of things’, a joke that Tiretta’s job as director of public works might also be a euphemism for his sexual orientation. These nicknames, and his light-hearted reporting, made his paper an entertaining read for many.

People were also glad that Hicky made their lives easier. They could enclose his newspaper to their friends and relatives instead of writing all the details of events in their letters. ‘As I propose sending you a regular supply of Calcutta Gazettes there can be no necessity to fill my letters with political information,’ one woman wrote to her sister in England.

Hicky saw his newspaper as a forum where people of many backgrounds could voice ideas for the betterment of society. As he promised, he avoided politics. And he refused to print any partisan letters. He once rejected one letter because it, ‘breathes strongly of faction’. He maintained neutrality, careful not to discuss anything controversial.

He wanted his paper to serve society, so the first topic he ventured into was city improvement. He published articles calling on the Company to invest more on infrastructure, road construction, and general sanitation, things the city lacked compared to its European peers. One of his correspondents, who lived near the Portuguese cemetery, urged the Company to regulate burials. The cemetery was overflowing, with over 400 bodies buried every year in shallow graves without coffins. The monsoon rains often exposed the corpses. Their decaying matter mixed with drinking tanks, poisoning the water and causing disease. ‘I [hope] thro’ the channel of your paper … to remove it,’ his correspondent wrote.

Another topic was road maintenance. One of his correspondents pressed the Company to repair and rebuild the city’s roads. Another wrote that the Company needed to clean up the ‘dead carcasses of animals putrefying in the streets’. While this correspondent was dismayed that animals were left to rot in the open, he was more shocked that the Company had not buried human corpses lying in the street. How ‘trivial is the shock’ of dead animals, the correspondent wrote, when ‘the miserable corpse[s] of our Fellow Creatures’ were lying naked on the streets.

As Hicky ventured into more topics, he touched upon the role that women should fill in society. Typical for his time, he and his writers supported the belief that men were superior to women.

His male writers opined that women should be chaste, faithful, and submissive. Their role was to satisfy and please their husbands. Their value was in how many children they could produce, and their responsibility was to preserve society’s moral values. One of his correspondents wrote:

A Good Wife I think Mr Hicky is one who ever mindfull of the Solemn Contract which she has entered into, is strictly and conscientiously virtuous, constant, and faithfull to her Husband; also chaste, pure and unblemished in every thought Word and Deed—She ought to be humble and modest from reason and conviction, submissive from choice, and obedient from inclination … [She must make] it her constant study to appear truly amiable in the Eyes of her Husband, being conscious that every thing which promotes his happiness, must in the End contribute to her own.

Hicky devoted many columns to quotes that women should be subservient, quoting sections from a book, Thoughts on the times but chiefly on the profligacy of our women, which argued that women should remain ‘modest’, ‘virtuous’ and be educated only for the pleasure of men. They should be taught only subjects like dancing, music and French. By reprinting many sections from this book, he spread the idea that education made women less sexually attractive, that it stripped them of their femininity, and that women’s biology made them intellectually inferior and unable to participate in serious male-only conversation.

While Hicky and his writers argued women should fill a restricted sexual role, they also sometimes applied restrictions to themselves. When he had extra space, Hicky reprinted sections from a 1772 book, The Fatal Consequences of Adultery, which argued it should be illegal for someone to marry the person they committed adultery with. ‘Our modern fine gentle men look upon this crime as a mere gallantry… But what honour can there be in that man, who violates the laws of friendship, the laws of his country, the laws of reason and the laws of God,’ he quoted. The book’s hope was to reduce adultery by reducing the incentive to commit it. Still, the burden fell hardest on women, who unlike men, would have to live with society’s judgment of their actions.

Hicky adapted his patriarchal stance to India. In particular, he focused on the profession of man-midwifery, a profession that had been newly introduced to Calcutta. In Europe, men had become midwives, displacing women from this traditional role. While in Europe there was some resistance to man midwives because they were believed to violate decency between men and women and could lead to improper lust, in India the resistance to man midwives was more complex. Not only were they thought to violate decency, they were seen as foreign invaders of Indian customs.

Hicky, who opposed man midwives because of patriarchy, joined Anglo-Indian women who opposed them because they were foreign. Into the debate, he printed a letter from his first female writer, a lower class Anglo-Indian woman known as Old Nell.

Despite his beliefs, Hicky published her article, allowing a woman into a male sphere at a time when women, most of all women of colour, were marginalised. For although his own views on women’s role in society may have differed from hers, he acted on his paper’s slogan to be open to all parties. He let her write despite her status, perhaps because she did not challenge his belief that a woman’s value was her womb.

Old Nell recalled passing the office of one European man midwife who set up shop in Black Town. She could not imagine the man midwife getting any business as the only people who walked by were Anglo-Indians, Muslims, or Hindus. Few could read English anyway, so they would have little idea what man midwife meant. ‘Therefore I say Mr Hicky, the man must be mistaken and might as well have wrote up Man-Monster to the Ignorant crowd that pass,’ she wrote.

Old Nell was the daughter of an Irish man and an Indian woman. Unlike many other poor Anglo-Indian women, she was literate. Her father had taught her how to read and write. Yet she was unable or unwilling to take advantage of her education. She lived as a farmer, growing root vegetables. She was proud of her work. Every morning she picked vegetables and every day she sold them at the market. Her daily routine and diet of nutritious foods like congee and curries kept her healthy.

She revealed that her lifestyle kept her in better health than European women. She claimed that if they exercised like her then they would have no need for a man midwife, or any midwife at all. They could give birth naturally. ‘Nature will always act her part, if not prevented by luxury and Indolence,’ she wrote. She said her diet, lifestyle, and education would allow her to rear healthier children than any European woman; she could produce six healthy sons even if her skin was not as white as a European’s. And in that, she said, she was equal to any woman, white or otherwise.

You must know Mr Hicky, my Husband is a Gardner, I am therefore up at Day break plucking my Roots, and washing them for Market, from whence I return generally by Nine, but some times sooner, Eat a hearty breakfast (not of Ship Slop Tea) but good Congee, after which I attend to the domestic affairs of our little Cottage, whilst my Husband is Ploughing, and working in the Grounds. Our Dinner is generally made of wholesome Curries, or the Poultry of our Yard, and Congee again serves us for supper. Thus we enjoy sound and perfect health, and I will venture to affirm, that I can turn out, six as fine Choping Boys and Girls, as any in the Parish, and without the assistance of a Man-Mid-wife.

And tho’ my Skin is not so white as your fine Ladies, it is as plump, and as sleek as the best of them.

Old Nell

Another contradiction of Hicky’s reporting was that while he printed articles arguing that women should be chaste, he also printed articles supporting women’s right to control their own sexuality. Perhaps shocking his more prudish readers, he printed one topic more taboo than others: female masturbation. Hicky cared little about norms which considered female masturbation a selfish pleasure that degraded a woman’s purity and lowered society’s honour.

Hicky reported a conversation between two women, one of whom was engaged to a man nicknamed Jack Hydrocele, because of rumours that he had a hydrocele, a testicular deformity that could inhibit sex. When the woman was asked if the rumours about her future husband were true, she said yes, her future husband did have a hydrocele. Her friend said she was sorry for her, for without a man she would not be able to get sexual pleasure.

‘For, to tell you the truth, you might as well be Married to your maid as to [him],’ she said.

To her friend’s shock, the woman said she could very well cater for herself.

I shall take the liberty to follow the example of the sensible and fashionable part of my Sex particularly in catering for myself, and in laughing at those Squeamish and vulgar creatures who may have the impertinence to blame me for doing myself Natural justice.

She did not care what other people said about her. She could do herself justice, so to speak.

Instead of shaming her, Hicky mocked those who criticised her. He noted that her other suitors had retired to a brothel to ‘procure a sort of half oblivion of that imaginary happiness which they think Jack Hydrocele is in possession of’.

Hicky was also unusual for reporting on the poor and lower classes. He expressed a level of class consciousness well before his time, shaped and developed by his background as a subaltern and his experience in debtors’ prison.

He printed an article from a Company officer at the Gwalior Fort. The army was reorganising the fort to make it more defensible, hiring labourers to do the work. The officer wrote to Hicky that he had spotted a girl, about age ten, and could not stop staring at her. There was something about her appearance, her ‘sweetness of countenance’, that made him want to learn more about her. He told his hircarrah to find out where the girl lived and who her parents were.

The next morning the girl’s mother came to his house. She told him that she had always been poor, that her husband had died and that she had earned a living making wool but was now too old to work and had to rely on her daughter. He was shocked that they could survive on three paisa, or 3/64 of a rupee, a day. He asked if he could see her daughter, taking out a bag of 100 rupees and giving some to her. ‘Wah wah; Burrah Sahib hai!’ Wow wow, you are a great man! the woman cried. She had never seen so much money in her life. He suggested they come and live with him. They could have all the money they wanted, he promised. But the mother grew suspicious. She asked why a foreigner like him would want two Indian women to live with him.

He was embarrassed by his offer and said that he had a wife and children down the river and they could live with them instead. He thought his offer was an act of charity that would free them from a life of hard labour.

But Hicky reported that his charity was not wanted. Moreover, he was viewed with suspicion. The mother came back an hour later and threw the money back at him, saying the only reason that white men gave money to little girls was for bad intentions. She said she would rather kill her daughter with her own hands than have her become a slave to any man, and that his story of having a wife was all a dirty lie.

Her reply shocked him. After they left, he fell deep into thought. He found himself surprised that such a woman, so poor and destitute, least of all a heathen, could have such honour and courage to refuse him. She did not have the education, refinement, nor enlightened ideals of his fellow Europeans. He had a revelation. It was not enlightenment ideals or Christianity that made people good or bad. A person’s religion did not matter, nor their education or social class. Anyone from any background, man or woman, could be good and righteous.

Why said I should we value ourselves for our Education, or Religion when we find such sentiments in these poor ignorant Heathens? Where will you find such instances of virtue with us, under such temptations for vice? Blush Oh ye people of a more enlighten’d age, Nation and manners, blush for your depravity. Come here and see … what innate Natural Honour is, let the stoics and Philosophers tell me to eternity that there is no such thing as innate principles, that they are all the effects of Education. I tell 74 them, I’ll prove to them that it is false, here was native honour unsullied by Indolence and luxury, unadorn’d by Education, and unsupported or protected by any thing.

He never saw the mother and child again. He wanted to say that he was not ashamed nor meant them dishonour or harm. This was a fact that he was not afraid to share to the whole world via Hicky’s newspaper.

I would give 1000 Rupees this moment that they were with [me], but that’s now impossible, for I have made every enquiry in my power, and can hear Nothing of them, they are removed I suppose to some other place. I’m sorry for it, for I wish’d them both well, and still do, nor have I a thought concerning either, that I would be asham’d to expose to the whole World.

The conclusion Hicky let people draw was that goodness did not come from class, education, or modernity. Goodness was innate. Indian women were not inferior to their European counterparts.

But his article still treated Indians as noble savages. Their goodness came from the fact that they were pure and untouched by the corruption of the modern era. He implied that Indians lived simple lives with simple thoughts in simple times. Hicky may have seen Indians as having the potential to be equal, but throughout his writing, he often did not describe them as actually his equals.

Despite this disconnect, Hicky did not write solely about Europeans. By reporting the tragedies and happinesses of both European and the Bengali poor, he covered the news that others might have passed over. For example, he reported a miraculous story of how one woman survived to give birth amid a great fire. He covered the demise of a palm sap picker who fell to his death from a coconut tree. He reported boats that overturned in the Hooghly and the commoners who drowned. He reported the violence of British sailors who seized men in punch houses to force them into the navy. In bringing stories like these to light, he saw himself as servant to society, covering topics of which many would have been ignorant.

At some points, he went a step further. His support of the poor could turn into criticism of the rich. When one Bengali chief drove over a poor man in his chariot and killed him on the spot, Hicky exposed how the chief covered up the murder. Instead of murder charges going to the Supreme Court, the chief paid off the deceased’s wife and children; they needed money to survive. ‘The matter we hear has been hushed up for twenty Rupees,’ Hicky reported.

Hicky covered one issue that affected the poor more than any other: Calcutta’s terrifying fires. Because many poor Bengalis used grass from the Hooghly to thatch their roofs, fires broke out frequently and rapidly, often burning down thousands of houses at a time. Months of extreme heat during the dry season and Calcutta’s narrow roads and unpaved streets made it tough to control these fires.

In March, Calcutta was hit by one of the greatest of these fires ever. Every house, from Bow Bazar in the city’s north to Colinga in the east, went up in flames. ‘The dreadful havoc the late fire has made amongst the poor Bengalis is almost incredible,’ Hicky wrote. Above fifteen thousand straw houses stood gutted. One hundred and ninety died, ‘burned and suffocated by the smoak and flames’, he reported. In one house, sixteen people were burnt alive. In another, five men went in at different times to save two women and a child, but all were suffocated. Women ran to place their babies in Lal Dighi, the city’s main source of drinking water. Looters took advantage of the chaos, burglarising homes. The destruction was so bad that old residents said it was the worst fire in a lifetime.

Thousands were left homeless, with no food, water, or clothing. Even Hicky was affected. His bungalow and little out houses in his garden had been consumed. He called for action in his newspaper, asking the rich and powerful to give food, and more importantly, shelter and clothing. He insisted the Company do something to help.

To the Benevolent and Powerful.

Be it known that fifteen thousand Inhabitants of Calcutta are since the late Fires in extreme Distress, their small possessions having been consumed … but a more dreadful foe awaits them, lingering Diseases, exposed to the extremes of heat and cold, destitute of clothes and dwellings, to feed them may only prolong their misery: many of our Aged have laid down content to die and the Infants wailing in their Mothers bosoms increase the calamity beyond the power of language to describe … Ye Patrons of the Unfortunate, Exert your influence, clothe [them] and give them habitations.

Hicky soon discovered that he had influence. Many people, including Company servants, read his newspaper. After his articles on the putrefying carcasses in the streets, the police superintendent posted a notice in his paper asking where the dead were so they could be picked up. He got an even greater response to the fire. On June 26, after he published his call to action, the Supreme Council issued a proposal to forbid thatch houses within Calcutta, and to enact a 14.7 per cent property tax to repair the city’s roads. This proposal, called the Bye-Law, would later become a lightning rod for dissent because many saw it as illegal taxation without representation.

Slowly, Hicky began to change. He became more political as he saw the power his newspaper wielded. His friendships with other subalterns and his time trading in India likely convinced him to turn to politics. Bu allowing subalterns to advocate for their rights in his paper, he saw himself providing a public servie. But by dong so, he began to drift away from the neutrality he had earlier espoused. He changed his masthead to proclaim that his newspaper was ‘Open to all Parties, but influenced by None’—borrowing this slogan from Revolutionary American newspapers — to emphasise his independence, and to indicate he would be accepting more controversial topics.

The first of these topics was war. At first, Hicky supported British wars, in particular the fight against the American Revolutionaries. He hewed to the party line that the American colonists should submit to British authority and that their rebellion was sedition. In one poem — a common way of expressing political beliefs at the time — he accused the Americans of rebelling because they were too selfish to pay taxes. He compared the Americans to frogs and predicted that their joy would turn to sorrow when they learned their ally, the French king, was no friend of democracy, but planned to conquer America after the revolution was over. In the end, he predicted the Americans would be eaten like frogs by the French stork-king.

Rejoice, Americans, rejoice!

Praise ye the Lord with heart and voice;

The treaty’s sign’d with faithful France,

And now like Frenchmen, sing and dance!

But when your Joy gives way to reason

And friendly hints are not deemed treason

Let me as well as I am able,

Present your Congress with a fable.

Tired out with happiness, the frogs

Sedition croak’d thro’ all their bogs

And then to Jove the restless race,

Made out their melancholy case …

None but ourselves are fit to rule us:

We are too large, too free a nation,

To be incumber’d with taxation.

We pray for peace but wish confusion

Then right or wrong a revolution! …

The Stork grew hungry, long’d for fish!

The monarch could not have his wish

In rage he to the marshes flies;

And made a meal of his allies;

Then grew so fond of well-fed frogs

He made a larder of the bogs!

Say, Yankies, don’t you feel compunction,

At your unnatural, rash conjunction?

Can love for you in him take root,

Who’s Catholic and absolute?

I’ll tell these croakers how he’ll treat ‘em!

Frenchmen, like Storks, love frog, to eat ‘em.

There were pressing issues he felt he could not avoid. He slowly began to criticise corruption in the Company. But he was careful to criticise only those who were far away from Calcutta. He made sure to restrain his attacks to a person and a place both mentally and physically distant from Calcutta: the Governor of Madras, Sir Thomas Rumbold, who had been recalled to England to answer charges in front of Parliament. Hicky sarcastically wrote that Rumbold was a ‘great man’ for ‘only’ amassing a fortune of about £600,000 while in India, much of it from bribes and extortion. For now, this was Hicky’s only mention of corruption.

Hicky began to air long-standing grievances about pay and promotion. The subalterns who had fought in the Rohilla War seven years ago felt betrayed and deceived that they had never received prize money. Many were convinced both the Company’s directors and Parliament wanted to wash their hands off Hastings’ war. No politician in England wished to be seen condoning an immoral war.

Hicky printed the subalterns’ letters, hoping that publicity would resolve their grievances. He published a letter from an officer who had served in the war, and who had seen one of his veterans at Calcutta’s Old Fort. The officer asked the veteran if the young girl by his side was his daughter. The veteran replied she was not. She was the daughter of his comrade who had been killed in the war. He was taking care of her now, he explained:

Your Honour knows I have been too long in India to have a Child so young as her. But [she] is the Orphan of my old Comrade Thomas Beck, Corporal in the file that was hacked down just on our left. He never rightly recovered but died a little after you left us. As your Honour knew him to be a good Man and got him made a Serjant, had he lived he would have saved something for his Poor Child. When on his death Bed Grasping my Hand [he] said ‘George you loved me: Love my Child as well, and she will not miss her father.’

The veteran continued, with tears in his eyes, that if he had gotten prize money he could provide better for his comrade’s daughter. Other troops in more recent conflicts had gotten prize money, but he had not. He said he was deceived. He was now certain he had fought for a bad cause and that was why he was being punished.

May you Sir never know the loss of a Friend — Poor Tom! All he had he gave, in his Knap Sack was found a few Shafts of Linen and this Breast Buckle, tho’ I have no occasion for that to remind me of him, while this little one is exactly like him lives. I am fonder of her then I could be of my own. I have got his Will by which he left me his Prize Money.—Ah! Your Honour, we have been cruelly deceived. I am sure you was too, as you believed those fine promises true or, you would not have caused them to be read at the Head of the Company. I begin now to think true what a number of people then used to say. That we were fighting in a bad Cause, or else why should those who took the ships; and Chandernagore, get prize Money and we not? … It is our duty to obey and we were told they were our Enemies. Such a sum as mine and Tom’s would be of great service to me.

Hicky also used his newspaper to criticise the army’s promotion system. Promotion was tediously slow. It could often take a decade for a cadet to be promoted. Moreover, the Company army had fewer officers per solider than the British army, especially at the higher ranks, meaning there were fewer promotion opportunities for every cadet. Furthermore, while the Company army promoted by seniority, in reality, the well-connected and rich could subvert the system by returning to England to wait their turn for promotion. Poor subalterns learned with dismay that the system was corrupted by connections and money.

In July, Hicky published a letter from a cadet who grumbled that he stood little more chance of being promoted now than he had when he had enlisted a decade earlier. He did not know what to do, other than to write to Hicky and hope that the publicity might cause change.

It is a disagreeable reflexion, Sir, for a young Man like me … to think, that I am likely to remain in this Schorching, unhealthy Climate for 12 or 14 Years and unless I have interest at the fountain head … have the most valuable part of my life spent, and my health destroy’d in the service … and at the same time see many inferior Officers, return to their native Countries in affluence… Oh ye in power think of this, and let some kind of equal distribution take place.


A poor Cadet.

Hicky covered not just the European soldiers, he also covered the Indian sepoys who fought at the bottom of the Company’s ranks. When lightning struck the military base at Kanpur in June, it set off a fire that destroyed much of the camp. The sepoys suffered the most. Their pay was already months behind, forcing them to borrow money to buy supplies. Now much of what they owned was destroyed. ‘The poor black Troops have suffered much by it and their situation is now truelly miserable … they are always kept three Months in Arrears, so that being obliged to borrow from mercenary usurers at an exorbitant Interest for their daily subsistence, it reduces their pay to a very small Pittance indeed,’ wrote one of his correspondents.

Hicky turned against the war as death tolls mounted. The biggest turning point was the horrific Battle of Pollilur, when the king of Mysore, Hyder Ali, and his 90,000-man army ambushed one of the Company armies. The Company commander formed his force in a hollow square and frantically wrote for help. But it all was for naught. A rocket hit one of his ammunition wagons and ripped a hole in his line. The Mysorean cavalry charged in and the square collapsed.

The battle became butchery as the Company army was wiped off the map. Over 3,000 out of the 5,700 soldiers were killed. It was the single biggest British military defeat in India in a generation. After the battle, the British commander was strapped to a canon and forced to watch as the severed heads of his fellow officers were paraded before him. The youngest soldiers were dressed as women for their captors’ entertainment. Three hundred were forcibly circumcised. The survivors were marched naked or semi-naked into dungeons and fed a diet of toxic rice until they slowly died.

The battle shocked Hicky and his belief that the British were superior to any enemy in India. As reports filtered in over the next few months, he learned just how disastrous the battle was, and how incompetent the Company generals had been. The chief of the Company forces in South India, Hector Munro, stood only four miles away and ignored repeated requests for help. Instead of coming to their aid, he dumped all his artillery into local lakes and fled. To make matters worse, after the battle, Hyder Ali besieged most of South India and cut Madras from any supplies.

The battle made Hicky question why the British were fighting in India. The casualties made the war seem pointless, and he accused the Company of squandering their soldiers’ lives. ‘More Europeans have been ignominiously Sacrificed in the late ill concerted and disgraceful Campaigns,’ he wrote, ‘than were lost … in … the whole of the last War.’

He began to question whether his fellow British were good, and Indians bad. When Hyder Ali’s army captured Arcot, it was thought they massacred anyone they found. Hicky reported a much different reality. He reported that Hyder had actually escorted the captured Company troops to friendly territory, let them write letters home, and even had his own hircarrahs deliver their letters. ‘How noble and General like was this act,’ Hicky wrote. ‘How much we wrong the Infidels of those remote and savage Nations, when we suppose them capable of acting a more base part than we do ourselves.’ Where Hicky once saw only a rapacious warlord, he now saw a complex leader, capable of the same humanity as his fellow British.

With ever-increasing scepticism, he used his paper to report on the war’s humanitarian tragedy. As Hyder laid waste to the countryside with fire and sword, thousands of people came flooding into Madras. Mothers walked with infants at their breasts. Fathers lead their families on foot. The city was full to the brink. ‘The houses and streets of that place are now so full that they can scarcely find rooms to lay themselves down,’ he wrote.

He reported the terrible effects of war. The price of rice shot up thirty times. Famine came next. ‘The poor Natives near that place are all starving,’ he wrote. People were ‘Dying even at the warehouse doors — Everyday numbers perish in this manner, 5 women with infants in their arms waiting for their turn dropt down dead with hunger’. The human horrors were almost too much to bear, and he saw it as his duty to point them out.

His war coverage gained him an international audience. Many British newspapers like the London Courant, London Chronicle, Public Advertiser, British Evening Post, and the Lady’s Magazine reprinted his news, often verbatim. So did many monthly and yearly journals. His news even reached America, where newspapers like the New Jersey Gazette and Providence Gazette were quick to reprint British defeats. His paper also reached non-English speaking audiences. French journals like the Journal Politique and the Mercure de France translated his articles about British battles in India. Even the German Politisches Journal summarised his reporting. Many other journals, whose records no longer exist, likely also reprinted his news. As the only newspaper in Asia, his gazette became an important source of information.

During these months, Hicky had made his newspaper an independent voice for reform. But his increasing scepticism also made him more willing to question those in power and to break cultural norms. He saw his mission to tell the truth: open to all parties, but influenced by none. He spotlighted the subalterns that occupied the lower rungs of society, shut out from patronage and prestige. And he gave them the means to express their complaints. All he could hope for was that those in power would respond.

But his success meant that others saw a good business opportunity. And, an event was about to come that would make it easier for any competitor with the right connections to challenge him.

Hindi dailies lead circulation chart in July-December 2012


The Times of India


Mumbai: Hindi newspapers sold the largest number of copies among daily newspapers in all languages in India, clocking a circulation of a little over 15 million during the July-December 2012 period. This was followed by English newspapers with a circulation of over 9 million during the period, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC).

Among other languages, Marathi newspapers came third in the pecking order with a certified circulation of 5.4 million, while the fourth spot was taken by Malayalam newspapers with a circulation of around 4 million. Tamil and Telugu daily newspapers took the fifth and sixth spot with a circulation of roughly 3.9 million and 3.7 million, respectively, while Bengali newspapers came seventh with 2.7 million.

Kannada newspapers took the eighth spot with a circulation of around 2 million. Punjabi with a circulation of 8.4 lakh was ninth on the list, followed by Oriya with a circulation of 4.8 lakh on the 10th spot. Other prominent ones included Assamese (3.3 lakh), Gujarati (1.6 lakh) and Urdu (1.3 lakh).

ABC, which has changed its system of appointing auditors to audit circulation figures of member publications with effect from January to June 2013, said this was being done to bring about greater transparency.

The total number of average certified copies of daily newspapers, weekly newspapers and magazines put together across 17 languages, during July-December 2012, stood at a little over 59 million. Of these, daily newspapers formed a significant portion (approximately 81%) of the circulation, with average certified copies at 48 million.

2008-15: 5.04% CAGR growth

The Times of India, Jun 02 2016

The print medium is thriving, growing and expanding in India despite stiff competition from other media like TV , radio and digital editions, reveals Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) data. ABC has been certifying circulation figures of member publications every six months--January-June and July-December--since 1948. Print circulation of ABC member publications grew by 5.04% CAGR over the last eight years. This growth was achieved due to new titles entering various market places as well as existing titles expanding their reach by starting new editionsprinting centres.

ABC certifies circulation figures after a stringent audit process through 90 empanelled firms of chartered accountants. As of date, 669 member editions (daily and weekly newspapers) and 50 magazines submit their circulation figures every six months for third party independent verification. Other ABC members include media agencies, print medium advertisers, government organisations and DAVP.

ABC will also be shortly entering the field of digital measurement along with Nielsen.

2016-17: 48.80 crore is combined circulation of 1lakh publications

RNI: Over 1L publications have 49 crore circulation, December 16, 2017: The Times of India

Over one lakh registered publications have claimed a circulation of 48.80 crore in India during 2016-17, the annual report by the Registrar of Newspapers for India for 2016-17 says.

‘Press in India 2016-17’, a statement of the number of publications in the country as on March 31, 2017, was released on Friday by Union information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani. It shows that 4,007 new publications were registered in 2016-17, with the largest numbers of registered publications — 17,736 — based in UP.

The report also said the number of registered publications in India increased by 3.58% in 2016-17. While Hindi continues to tower over all other languages with 46,587 registered publications, English is the second most popular language with 14,365 publications registered in the language.

Irani said the report mapped the progress of the Indian newspaper industry and gave a comprehensive analysis of the contours of the growth for the industry, especially among regional languages. Irani also said the report should be released digitally, and that the data should be categorised genre-wise, with publications in regional language being analysed separately, for the sector’s growth and dispersal.

The report is based on a compilation of data available with RNI and details submitted in the Annual Statements filed online by the publications for the financial year 2016-17.

2017: Print media in dire straits

Indian newspaper industry: Red ink splashed across the bottom line, Jan 19 2017 : The Times of India

A Times of India Editorial

Even as political parties prepare for a high-decibel electoral showdown, there is a quieter but no less critical battle for survival being fought across India. At stake is the future of print media. For long considered one of the four pillars of democracy ­ and a defender of free speech ­ newspapers are today under siege. A number of factors outside their control have come together to deal them a body-blow.

There is already blood on the floor of one of the last bastions of print media in the world. Major national dailies are shutting editions, laying off staff, slashing costs, and freezing expansions and investments. Smaller papers have been doing this for the last five years. -

Already , implementation of the latest wage board recommendations has bled a number of print companies to the point of sickness after the previous government accepted the board's report and forced newspapers to raise salaries by 45-50% along with arrears ­ so that blue collar staff including peons, clerks and drivers in certain scales are now paid more than three times what they earn in any other industry in India.

Hitherto profitable large publishers went into the red because of unsustainably high wage board payouts. The venerable Hindu reported a pre-tax loss in 2013-14 and 2014-15 as staff costs soared due to unsustainably high wage board payouts.The country's largest news agency , the not-for-profit Press Trust of India, has been similarly affected as a 173% rise in staff costs in 2013-14 over the previous year led to a sharp spike in operating losses, which have since remained high.

Demonetisation has also wreaked havoc on the print media. The Indian newspaper business is heavily dependent on advertising revenue, which contributes 70-80% to its total revenue. This was, in any case, showing little growth in the last few years ­ 4-6% compared to TV's 15-18% and digital's 35-40%. But demonetisation has compounded the situation by squeezing spends across almost all categories of advertisers.

This has been exacerbated by government refusing to hike its rockbottom DAVP advertising rates in line with market rates. DAVP rates have been revised only once since October 2010.Government advertising in large national newspapers is heavily subsidised by the newspapers themselves and does not even cover the cost of the paper they are printed on.

What has compounded the situation is a sharp spike in overheads like newsprint costs, particularly of the imported variety ­ which is used by large newspapers in high-speed printing machines ­ because of rupee depreciation.

Despite all this, Indian newspapers have kept cover prices among the lowest in the world (Rs 3-5 per copy on an average) so as to keep them affordable for readers for whom the newspaper is a source of not just information and enter tainment, but also education and knowledge. As result, circulation revenue remains low and does not come anywhere near covering the cost of producing and distributing newspapers (advertisers cross-subsidise readers, which is why the steep fall in ad revenues since November is such bad news for the industry).

The cumulative effect of all these factors means that there is an existential threat to the vast majority of Indian newspapers, including the larger ones, which themselves have been financially weakened in the last few years. To cite an example, one of the most profitable publicly-listed national newspaper groups reported only a 4% CAGR revenue growth between 2011-12 and 2015-16 while its manpower cost jumped by over 58%. If this is the challenge before a major player, imagine the situation in smaller entities.

There are remedies, but they need to be actioned quickly so as to ensure that Indian newspapers do not turn sick in the next few years.

Print media is the only industry in the Indian private sector where a government-appointed wage board fixes wages. The National Commission on Labour in 2002 had unequivocally recommended that there was no need for a wage board to be constituted for any industry . In any case, the very concept of a `print journalist' no longer exists as journalists have become platformagnostic, moving from filing for online to writing for print to appearing on television, all in the course of a single workday.

Promotion of freedom of speech and upholding of democratic values have for over six decades formed the bedrock of the principle of zero or very low indirect tax on newspapers. The Supreme Court's interpretations of Constitutional protections for newspapers hold that any tax on newspapers is a tax on knowledge and militates against the spread of literacy and dissemination of news.

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