One of the fondest memories of my childhood was stretching out on a chair in the lawn of our Sylhet home on a winter's morning and opening the daily newspaper. The crisp feel and smell of the paper enhanced the experience. I had waited eagerly for the hawker to throw the bundled paper over the gate. While I usually encountered many unknown words – for example, thinking “ratio” was a mis-spelling of “radio” – that never diluted my enjoyment of reading the news.
My childhood days - late 1960s - were days of global volatility. Wars were major news, often reported with large, melodramatic headlines. I was too young to remember Kennedy's assassination, but the escalation of the Vietnam War was reported in great detail in our papers. So was the Six-day War in the middle-east. In the days leading up to that war, newspaper stories set up an expectation that was exactly the opposite of the war's outcome.
But by far the best part of the newspaper was the Kochi-Kacha page edited by Dadabhai Rokonuzzaman Khan. This juvenile section appeared weekly and contained tasty morsels: puzzles, anecdotes, stories, unusual facts and a letter from Dadabhai to his readers. The world of literature came alive in his page. Once it ran a complete Bangla translation of Les Miserables: the segments stretched out over years.
Where did it come from, this morning candy? The first newspaper was the Roman Acta Diurna published in 59 B.C.; however, the first printed newspaper appeared in 1605 in Antwerp. The first photograph reproduced in a newspaper was in 1865. Over centuries, delivering news to people through newspapers has become part of human civilization. Truly mass-produced newspapers appeared because of innovations in the United States by W. R. Hearst and his rival, J. Pulitzer, both colourful and larger-than-life figures.
The first major newspaper in the subcontinent was Hicky's Bengal Gazette which published from 1748. In Bangladesh we have had our share of famous newspapermen including Maulana Bhashani and Manik Mia. This newspaper is in many ways the brainchild of the late visionary A.S. Mahmud.
Today we enjoy a substantial and open media including several dozen daily newspapers. They are available just about everywhere. This is a testament to our progress as nation. In the age of the Internet and hand-held devices, many people prefer to get news from a website. But to me, nothing replaces the experience of reading a paper newspaper.
When I lived abroad, I had high regard for the New York Times. But my trust in it was bruised by its inaccurate, misleading reports and columns leading up to the Iraq War. More recently, I have noticed that whenever it chooses to write on Bangladesh, the Times places inordinate emphasis on negative stories – particularly related to the garment sector - and hardly features our positive stories or the progress made by the country.
Along similar lines, I have a question for our newspapers. Is it really necessary to publish close-up photographs depicting the anguish of loved ones every time tragedy strikes?
Nonetheless, it is wonderful to have a thriving press in this country. May our newspapers continue their pursuit of keeping the public informed in a timely, accurate and relevant manner.