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Agra Scribes Remember James Augustus Hicky, India's First Journalist

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Agra (India): The contribution of 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, was recalled by journalism students and senior scribes of the Taj city at a function, held Saturday evening.


 Journalists said it was difficult to ignore 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: "Students of journalism can feel inspired by reading about this man who laid the foundation of journalism in our country. 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.


 The president of the Agra Press Club Anil Sharma said, "We should not forget Indian journalism's baptism by fire and struggle. The media has to be sensitized and made aware of its immense responsibilities. The likes of Hickey beckon us to strive towards that end".


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".


Journalism students of several local institutes and university who attended the seminar on Indian Media: current trends, said the growth of the media undoubtedly had been impressive, but some negative trends were cause for concern and alarm. The mass media needs to be sensitized to the needs of the masses and should not remain glued to economic interests and ape the western media, students said.
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