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India’s and Asia’s first newspaper - The Story of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette
soon started carrying weight. His influence grew. Complaints raised in his paper increasingly started getting addressed by the government. Calcutta suffered from many things—poverty, disease, crime, etc. Topping the list amongst them was fire. He wrote about it in one of the editions and demanded the authorities to do something about it. And the authorities responded. The Company released Bye-law, a slew of fresh proposals banning thatched roofs and enacting a brand new property tax for road repairs. This faced bitter resistance as taxation without representation. Not too long ago, a similar move had cost the East India Company its American territories. By now, Hicky had begun a clear departure from his commitment to nonpartisan reporting. His influence had given him visible power. He intended to use it for the upliftment of fellow subalterns around him. Bengal Gazette started hosting increasingly political letters and opinions sharply critical of the administration.
Being the only mainstream news media in the continent gave Hicky’s Bengal Gazette an enviable level of authenticity. News it carried was often picked up verbatim by papers such as Britain’s London Chronicle, France’s Journal Politique, and Germany’s Politisches Journal. Often, it even made it across the Atlantic to the New World. Hicky duly recognized this growing influence of his work. His reach made him bolder. He was now treading on dangerous terrain.
Hicky’s Bengal Gazette had monopolized a niche that had no challenger. This was about to change. Enter Bernard Messink and Peter Reed. Now employed with the East India Company, the two men couldn’t have a more diverse background. Neither had any experience printing, much less printing newspapers. The two men started off aggressive and went straight for the jugular. Besides putting up notices announcing their paper all over Calcutta, they reached out to Hicky’s subscribers individually and nudged them to switch. Finally, on November 18, 1780, Bernard Messink and Peter Reed put out the first-ever copy of India’s second newspaper, the India Gazette. Messink’s contacts at the Belvedere Estate helped him secure free postage for his deliveries. This was a significant edge over Hicky’s business as the latter had to pay for his own postage. Hicky was not aware of this edge.
Nevertheless, he was determined to do something about it. Hicky turned to the only tool he had to air his angst - his newspaper. Over the following several editions, he consistently attacked Simeon Droz, Chief of the Board of Trade, to play a role in this conspiracy. Hicky was convinced Droz had orchestrated the whole postage exemption deal for Messink and Reed as revenge.
Right off the bat, the two newspapers found themselves on two opposing sides of the ideological divide. While Hicky’s Gazette remained anti-establishment, pro-poor, Messink-reed’s sucked up to the establishment and followed the money. It was a clear liberal-conservative divide. Hicky’s constant barbs on Droz did not go down well with Hastings, who promptly moved to suppress Bengal Gazette’s circulation. Orders were issued to the Postmaster General to ban Bengal Gazette’s deliveries. Since these orders had come without a formal lawsuit, Hicky saw them as an act of one man’s tyranny. Although he refrained from naming Hastings or even Droz, he continued to make obvious insinuations. Luckily for him though, his fears proved wrong. Instead, driven by the publicity Hasting’s decree brought, Hicky’s subscription grew. He had