A Brief History Of Local And Foreign Newspapers
The Colebrooke-Cameron Commission appointed by the then British government to report on the affairs of administration of Sri Lanka in April 1829, recommended, in addition to the legislative reforms, the necessity of starting newspapers to restrict the powers enjoyed by the British governor. They also stressed that the non-existence of newspapers was the main reason for the boundless powers of the governor. Governor Wilmot Horton took serious note of the recommendation made by the Commission, when he arrived on October 23, 1831. He was notified to commence a newspaper.
As a consequence and under the auspices of the Colonial Government, the Colombo Journal was published 186 years ago on January 1, 1832. It was discontinued on December 31, 1833 ‘to allow private enterprises’ to run newspapers. However, the true reason for the closure was that the Colombo Journal severely criticised the British government of the day.
English newspapers in 20th century
There were 13 English newspapers in the island at the beginning of the 20th century. The Ceylon Mohamdam (1900-1917) was the first newspaper to be published at the turn of the 20th century. It was followed by The Ceylon Standard in 1908, a paper published by a group of wealthy Sinhalese during the first decade of the nineteenth century. Don Richard Wijewardene, a dynamic young man and a Cambrian, made his entry as an entrepreneur—he was convinced that one of the most influential instruments in an independence struggle was the forceful might of the press: the print media. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited symbolizes, therefore, the intellect of this great man.
The Observer and Commercial Advertiser was the result of a joint venture by two Colombo-based merchants, G. Ackland and E.J.Darley, which was first published on February 4, 1834. The Observer and Commercial Advertiser later transformed into Ceylon Observer. Under the editorship of Christopher Elliott, a surgeon who turned journalist changed its name to Colombo Observer. The Observer severely criticized the government especially during the time of the 1848 rebellion. Elliott wanted the British rule in the island to end soon.
The colonial governor in an attempt to counter the harsh criticism wanted to commence another newspaper; the result was Ceylon Chronicle, edited by Rev. Samuel Owen Glenie, the Colonial Chaplain, which was issued in May, 1837. When the Bishop of India objected to this appointment, he was replaced with Postmaster General George Lee. There was a severe competition between the newspapers with the Governor and members of the civil service contributing to the Colombo Chronicle, while the Chief Justice and Auditor-General supported the Observer. The Weslyan press published Ceylon Advertiser and General Intelligence in September, 1845, which ceased in April, 1850. By then, the Observer newspaper was passed into A. M. Ferguson. Legislative Councilor John Ferguson was a prolific writer. R.H. Ferguson sold the paper to a syndicate of the European Association who in turn sold it to D. R. Wijewardena in 1923.
It would be interesting to note that at a time, the English papers were edited by full European boards, a Sinhalese named Miguel Silva who studied English, Logic, Latin, and Christianity at Wesley College became deputy editor of Observer in 1840s: Miguel was none other than Migettuwatte Gunanada Thera of Panaduraa Vaadaya fame.
A bi-weekly newspaper called the Kandy Herald printed in the office of the Times of Ceylon was published by some planters in the year 1864. A Local newspaper entitled Jaffna Freeman commenced publication in 1862, until it was closedown in 1879. The Catholic Messenger,which commenced publication in 1869, voiced the opinion of the Catholics for 150 years.
The Ceylon Independent, edited by George Wall, saw the light of the day in July 1888. The editor agitated for a more responsible form of government to the island. Later, it was passed into the hands of Sir Hector Van Cuylenburg and subsequently, A. E. Bultggens, who was a staunch Buddhist involved in the Buddhist revival movement. Under the editorship of great teacher and historian L. E. Blaze, operated the Ceylon Independent, which ceased its publication in 1937.
The Morning Leader newspaper was purchased by the de Soysa family. Sir James Pieris, Charles Pieris, and W. A. de Silva, the Sinhala novelist owned this newspaper. The Morning Leader was responsible for moulding the public opinion when it was being edited by Armond de Souza. From 1907-1921, which covered the Sinhala-Muslim Riots of 1915, a crucial juncture of our modern history. Morning Leader played a vital role with Armond de Souza criticizing the Martial Law proclaimed by the governor. After the death of de Souza, Prof J. C. L. Rodrigo became its editor. Its publication ceased in 1932.
Ceylon Daily News
D. R. Wijewardena, the newspaper magnate of Sri Lanka, commenced the Ceylon Daily News on January 3, 1918. Wijewardene fought for independence from the British rule. The Ceylon Observer [Sunday] commenced on February 4, 1923. The Ceylon Daily News was edited in its initial stages by distinguish editors such as S. J. K. Crowther, H. D. Jant, F. A. Martinus, A. V. Kulasingham, and E. T. de Silva. Silva was a pioneer and activist in the national movement.
During the latter part of the 20th century, Samasamajist, the journal of the LSSP (1937); Sun (1964); Siyarata, UNP’s news sheet (1963); Weekend (1965), Ceylon Daily Mirror (1961), Island (1981), became prominent papers. The Times, which existed for over 130 years, was taken over by the government in August, 1977. The Times newspaper group was liquidated, paving the way for Ranjith Wijewardena, owner of Wijaya newspapers and the son of newspaper magnate D. R. Wijewardene, to purchase it in 1987. The Sunday Times commenced republication in June 1987. The controversial Sunday Leader commenced publication in June, 1994, and became competitive in the field of reporting political news, until its’ Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga was brutally murdered.
D. R. Wijewardene and his brother, Don Charles Wijewardene, bought the rights of the Sinhala newspaper, Dinamina and transformed it into a dynamic “daily” in the Island. In 1918, motivated by this success, D. R. bought an English paper, the Ceylonese. He paid Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the founder owner, Rs.16,000 for the paper, press, and goodwill. D. R. changed its name to Daily News, which is now a century-old and a household name in Sri Lanka.
In 1926, D. R. Wijewardene formed the company, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. By then, he had shifted his papers and their premises from the old, poorly-ventilated bungalow in Colombo 10, into Baillie Street, the very heart of Colombo-Fort. He had also purchased a prime block of land on the borders of the Beira Lake. In 1929, Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited moved into Lake House.
History of world’s newspaper publishing
The newspaper is a European invention. In Venice, as early as the 16th century, there had been wide circulation of handwritten news sheets filled with news on politics and wars in Italy and Europe. The first printed paper was published in Germany in 1609. They were heavily censored by the government and reported mainly only foreign news, current prices, etc. Newspapers flourished in London after the English government withdrew censorship in 1695. Low cost daily papers appeared in cities by the 1830’s after the high speed presses commenced printing thousands of copies cheaply. By 1900, advertising revenues encouraged more important than party support. The New York City newspaper circulation reached the level of a million copies a day.
There was a small impact with the rise of radio in the 1930s, but television from the 1950’s had a major impact on the industry. Afternoon papers suffered most. In all parts of the globe, the growth of the internet after 2000 and sophisticated mobile phones after 2010, proved financially disastrous to newspapers as advertisers deserted and subscriptions plunged. It is strange that this phenomenon did not affect the newspapers of Sri Lanka.
Changing the look of English news printing, on November 7, 1665, The Oxford Gazette began publication. It decisively was a two column, a clearly-titled and a clear-dated news sheet.
The first newspaper in the American colonies was the Benjamin Harris published Publick Occurrences, in Boston in 1690.
Germany, France, China, and Japan
16th century Germany also saw handwritten news subscribed by government officials and also merchants. With literacy growing sharply and the demand for news led to modifications in the physical size, visual appeal, war reporting, writing style and reporting. London set the pace before 1870. The paper was renamed The Times in 1788. In 1817, it was edited by Thomas Barnes, a sharp reviewer of parliamentary hypocrisy and a defender of freedom of the press.
The first newspaper in France was the Gazette de France, which was established in 1632 by the king’s physician Theophrastus Renaudot, with the patronage of Louis XIII. Newspapers were subject to strict censorship and served as tools of propaganda for the monarchy.
Dissidents used ridicule and veiled meanings to spread their political condemnation. Between tyrannical rulers and a low-rate of literacy, Italy had little in the way of a serious newspapers. Gazzetta del Popolo (1848), was the leading voice for an Italian unification.
In China, during the late Han dynasty [3 AD], Bulletin of the Court was published for government news; a handwritten on silk and was read by government officials—perhaps the oldest. Robert Knight founded two English language daily papers, The Statesman and The Times of India, in Calcutta and Bombay, respectively, in early 19th century. Japanese newspapers began in the 17th century as yomiuri , meaning ‘to read and sell’ or kawaraban, referring to the use of clay printing blocks, were printed handbills sold in major cities. The Japan Herald was the first modern newspaper that was published bi-weekly in Yokohama, by an Englishman named A. W. Hansard from 1861. (K.K.S. Perera)