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Scribes remember Irishman who published first Indian newspaper


Agra : Rich tributes were paid here Thursday to James Augustus Hickey, an Irishman, who laid the foundation and parameters of journalism in India through the columns of his weekly Bengal Gazette, the first Indian newspaper published from Kolkata on this day in 1779.

At a meeting organised by the Pragatisheel Patrakar Sangh, a media organisation, scribes recalled the contribution of Hickey, whose anti-establishment writings and what some call “scandalous outbursts against the rulers of the day”, won him many admirers.

Speaking on the occasion, veteran journalist Neville Smith said: “Free press in India owes a debt of gratitude to James Augustus Hickey, the man who almost single-handedly faced the might of the British empire in India to espouse the cause of free expression and reining in of the government by the voice of the people, exposing the actions of the government, and making public the dirty deals.

“There might have been a touch of yellow journalism or sensationalism but Hickey can be excused for that because he was making the first tentative stride on the road to a free press which was ultimately to become the fourth pillar of democracy. This he did, even before Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the US, spoke so famously about the freedom of the press,” said Smith, the chief guest of the function.

T.R. Mathur, a senior scribe, said journalism students would do well to study how against all odds Hickey kept the flame of free expression alive and suffered all kinds of humiliations and insults.

“We should not forget Indian journalism’s baptism by fire and struggle. The media has to be sensitised and made aware of its immense responsibilities. The likes of Hickey beckon us to strive towards that end,” said activist Shivani Chaturvedi.

Hickey, who was considered a highly eccentric Irishman, founded the country’s first newspaper called Hickey’s Bengal Gazette or the Calcutta General Advertiser. It was a weekly newspaper, founded in 1779 in Calcutta, the then capital of British India.

His memoirist William Hickey tells us that he allowed it “to become the channel of personal invective, and the most scurrilous abuse of individuals of all ranks, high and low, rich and poor, many were attacked in the most wanton and cruel manner”.