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Special issue on 36th anniversary

Newspapers of Dhaka : Then and Now

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18th-Mar-2015       
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Dr. Shaikh Abdus Salam :
The foundation of Bangladesh press is rooted into the history of news papering in undivided India. The 'Bengal Gazzette' or the 'Calcutta General Advertiser' popularly known as 'Hicky's Gazzette', published from Kolkata (Calcutta) in 1780 is considered to be the first printed newspaper in this sub-continent. At that time the British used to rule the Bengal Province along with other provinces of India. The center of British rule in Bengal Province was at Kolkata. This time Dhaka was a small city/town in the eastern part of Bengal but considered as the second largest city or town of the undivided Bengal. During this time the eastern part of Bengal was the 'hinterland' and it was used to serve the economic benefit and interest to build Kolkata. In terms of education, economic vibrancy and other issues to aspects this part of Bengal vis-a-vis Dhaka (Dacca) was far behind Kolkata.
At this time we find the existence of some newspapers in Kolkata from even before 19th century. We also find that no newspaper was published from this part of Bengal until 1847. We find a report written in 'Calcutta Monthly Journal' used to publish by the ruling authority of Bengal for their British bosses in 1836. The report discloses that-'The English School at Dacca is getting on very well; the number of the students now amounts to one hundred and fifty. A society has fastly been established for the cultivation of the Bengali language, which, contemplates the establishment of a newspaper in English and Bengali'.
But we don't find any newspaper published in Dacca until mid or late 1850's. The first newspaper published from East Bengal was the  'Rangapur Bartabaha'. It was a weekly newspaper published from Rangpur in 1847. A newspaper from Dhaka entitled 'Dhaka News' was published in 1856. It was a weekly newspaper and perhaps the first newspaper published from Dhaka.
Some historians opine that perhaps the 'Dhaka News' had lately changed its name and started its publication as the 'Bengal Times'. 'Kobita Kushumabali' was the first Bengali periodical published from Dhaka in around 1860. There after came the 'Dhaka Prokash' in 1861. The Dhaka Prokash was a long lasting newspaper in this region and survived for about one hundred years. This newspaper continue its publication even in the early period of East Pakistan. In 1865 another newspaper 'Biggaponi' was published from Dhaka under the editorship of Krishna Chandra, a great poet of that time. The 'Hindu Hitoishini' another weekly paper was published in 1865 by the then Hindu Hitoishini Shava.  
It is to be noted that other than Dhaka there were a good number of publications used to be printed and published from different parts of East-Bengal at that time. Most of the publishers or editors of those newspapers were either the European/British or they were the people mainly from the Hindu community. The first venture to publish a newspaper under the editorship of a Muslim came in 1874. The name of the paper was 'Paril Bartabaha'. It was a bi-monthly publication edited by Anisuddin Ahmed. It was published from Manikgonj under the then Dhaka district. Followed by the publication of Paril Bartabaha there were: Ahmadi, Kohinoor, Islam Ava, Akhbar-e-Islamia and many more newspapers came out from Dhaka and other parts of East-Bengal under the entrepreneurship of the muslim population. Whatever the case may be - if it was published by the Hindu or by the Muslim in the eye of the British those newspapers had a very little effect and influence on the common people. A write-up was published in the 'Report on the Administration of Bengal by the then ruling British in 1874-75 reads that- 'Generally speaking, it may be said that the vernacular press has little or no influence on the majority of the people who are agriculturists and day labourers. They do not see newspaper and are not influenced by them either directly or indirectly. Those who read papers are aided school teachers and the various officials and pleaders who are more or less connected with the Government. The number of reader being thus comparatively few and the direct influence of the press are little'.
However, even then we see a good number of newspapers came out from different parts of Bengal at that time. As of the case of Bengali newspaper publication the first English daily newspaper did not come out from Dhaka before 1916. It was Priya Nath Sen, a Bengali Hindu who perhaps published the first English daily newspaper from Dhaka in 1916. The name of the daily was - 'The Herald'. Before the partition of India a few newspapers like - The Azad, The Ittehad  and an English newspaper - The Morning News used to come out from Kolkata. But they had a fair penetration in East Bengal (aftermath East Pakistan). Within a few years after the partition of India in 1947 these newspapers were migrated to Dhaka and continued their publication from here. The early newspapers of the then East Pakistan published from Dhaka are - The Soinik, The Zindegi, The Pakistan Observer, The Ittefaq, The Insaf, The Sangbad etc. It is to be noted that the english journalism in the then East Pakistan were initiated and flourished with the publication of The Pakistan Observer. The journey of press or newspaper in Bangladesh was indeed rooted into the press of the then East Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh we have been experiencing a lot of changes in the arena of newspaper publication. The Bengali newspaper like - the Ittefaq and the Sangbad is now considered to be the long lasting newspapers in our country. They are still alive and well reputed too. In the case of English language news papering we see a good number of newspapers in the market.
After the independence of Bangladesh we find the Bangladesh Observer (the then Pakistan Observer), The Holiday (weekly), the Bangladesh Times, the New Nation etc. as credible English language newspapers in the country. In 1973 there were 35 dailies and 163 weeklies in the country. In 1983 the figures were 62 and 237 respectively. In 1993 the figures were 203 and  623; in 2003 the figures raised to 450 & 455 and in 2013 the figures further raised to 632 & 349 respectively.
From greater Dhaka a total number of 421 papers (daily, weekly and all kinds of periodicals) used to be published in 1998. In  2013 the total number of varieties of newspapers published from greater Dhaka was 632. Among them there were 243 Bengali dailies and 33 English dailies. It is to be mentioned that after 1990's the journalism in Bangladesh entered into a new era in terms of vibrancy and technological upliftment. A large number of Bengali as well as English language newspapers appeared then. The English dailies like - The Daily Star, The Daily Independent, The Financial Express, The New Age, The Sun, The Observer and many more came out from Dhaka and they are still in the circulation in the country. The New Nation is one of the long surviving English newspaper in Bangladesh. This paper first came out on 5th of July 1977 as an weekly publication and in 1981 it became a daily newspaper. This English daily newspaper is celebrating its 36th year of publication this year - Long live The New Nation.       
[Dr. Shaikh Abdus Salam, Professor of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka and Former Director General, Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB), E-mail: skasalam@gmail.com] 

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