Authors: Jrgen Osterhammel Patrick Camiller
A dynamic press followed quickly in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In Canada, a country with a population of 4.3 million, some thirty million newspapers were sent through the mail in 1880.
An English visitor to Melbourne in the late 1850s was amazed to see a newspaper in every doorway when she went for a morning stroll. With no real interference from the authorities, the press played an especially important role in the development of a democratic civil society in sparsely populated Australia. Newspapers were filled with news from the heart of the empire, but they also served to give voices from “down under” a presence in London. The press soon became a political force to be reckoned with in Australia.
In each of these cases it is hard to say when press censorship was legally or constitutionally abolished, and harder still to determine when administrative obstruction in the form of sureties, police searches, confiscation, threats of prosecution, and so on actually fell below a minimum threshold and became merely sporadic. Punitive action
publication always disappeared later than preventive censorship. In countries like Spain, where the press stood on such shaky foundations that journalists could not operate without taking a second job provided by political sponsors, the most liberal press law was of little avail.
In continental Europe, Norway was the first country to have a free press (from 1814); Belgium and Switzerland joined it around 1830, and Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands by 1848.
It is true that in the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights (1789), the French revolutionaries proclaimed “the free communication of ideas and opinions” to be “one of the most
precious of the rights of man” (article 11), but this meant little in practice. Napoleon III's Second Empire (1851â70) still went to great pains to control and depoliticize the press, although in the 1860s, as it moved toward a semiparliamentary regime, it considerably loosened the reins.
After a period of state repression bordering on terror that followed the suppression of the Paris Commune (1871), the Third Republic finally drew a line in 1878 and made it possible to speak again of a functioning public sphere. In 1881 an exemplary press law ushered in a
, in which the political press attained a quality and diversity never to be repeated after 1914, both flourishing economically and exercising great influence in the affairs of the republic.
Until the turn of 1881, a deeply divided France had witnessed a struggle over press freedom more severe than in any other country in Europe.
In the Habsburg Monarchy, a more liberal climate of opinion began to develop in the 1860s, but press confiscations were a regular recurrence down to the First World War. A further complication was the existence of a press in the many different languages of the empire. Being accused of high treason was always the risk one took for making statements that could be construed as separatist, the Czech press being especially exposed to this.
In the Tsarist Empire, more liberal legislation adopted in 1865 made it possible for a comparatively free press to develop, despite all the censorship and repression.
The measure of comparison is here the Russian situation before the reform, not the vitality and lack of restriction of the press in the United States, Britain, or Scandinavia at that time. But with this reform, Russia followed the Western European model of a transition from preventive censorship to legal and administrative control
publication. In the aftermath of the Revolution of 1905, the press was nominally as free as in Russia as in the West, but it remained subject to official harassment beyond what was normal in Germany or Austria. It was by no means the case that the whole of Europe was a haven of press freedom in an otherwise backward world.
Newspapers in Asia and Africa
The daily newspaper was a European-American invention that soon spread beyond the North Atlantic area. Where the colonial system offered the opportunities, indigenous educated classes soon took advantage of them to make their voices heard in both local languages and those of the colonial rulers. British India was again an especially clear case in point. Here the press developed in fairly close synchrony with Europe's, one difference being that the printing press appeared in India at the same time as the newspaper: a
communications revolution. The first English-language paper came out in 1780 in Calcutta; the first in an Indian language (Bengali) in 1818. The Gujarati-language
, founded in 1822, is still published today (as
). Soon there appeared English-language papers produced by Indians. Lithographic technology, which soon spread to smaller cities, was
common to all. Another reason why the new medium was taken up so quickly, eagerly, and successfully in India was that the country could build upon a rich culture of written reporting.
The years from 1835 to 1857 were a time of vibrant progress, in liberal conditions that people in the German Confederation could only dream of at that time. After the Great Rebellion of 1857â58, the colonial government reacted more heavy-handedly to Indian criticisms and tightened its control of the press, but this never escalated into a muzzling of public opinion. The viceroys valued the press both as a means of communicating with the population and as a source that relayed information and attitudes from Indian society. Together with the English legal tradition that generally tied the hands of the state, these pragmatic considerations explain nineteenth-century India's significance as a country with a highly developed press system. The same cannot be said of the colonies of other European powers. Although the Netherlands was at least as democratic a country as Britain, it was much more fearful of liberalizing press controls and public life in general in the East Indies than the British Raj was in India.
Things were different again in China, whose old printing tradition led to the development of a nationally independent press.
(News from the capital, or the
, as it was known in the West) began to appear as early as 1730. In fact, there had been a precursor that for the past thousand years published palace reports, edicts, and petitions. This court gazette existed until the end of the empire in 1911, having adopted newspaper-like features in 1900 and naming itself
(News for officials). The modern newspaper was introduced by Protestant missionaries, who operated first from abroad (Malacca, Batavia/Jakarta) and, after China opened up in 1842, in Hong Kong, Canton (Guangzhou), and Shanghai, addressing their potential converts and protÃ©gÃ©s directly in Chinese. Their sheets, though very short on political news, brought not only Christian propaganda but also general cultural information about the West. In the treaty ports, subject to foreign law as they developed successively after the end of the Opium War in 1842âand especially in Shanghai, the largest of them by farâa foreign press soon took off and flourished. It reflected the views and interests of European and American merchants in the treaty ports but was generally very well informed about what was happening in China. A private Chinese press, outside the control of the Chinese authorities, developed after 1861, again in coastal cities such as Shanghai and Tianjin and in the British crown colony of Hong Kong.
A paper like
(Shanghai daily news), which appeared from 1872 until 1949 and was run until 1909 as a Sino-British joint venture, could compare favorably at the turn of the century with serious and highly regarded European papers such as the
(also, as it happens, launched in 1872). Nevertheless, before the Revolution of 1911 its daily circulation was never higher than ten thousand. It attempted, with some degree of success, to provide accurate news reports along the lines of the London
, and converted old Chinese
forms of political discourse and criticism of rulers into the kind of front-page articles that reached their peak of importance in both China and Britain in the late nineteenth century. Its educated readership, which soon spread well beyond the treaty ports, saw the new approach to reporting by
not as an alien import but as a reshaping of older ways of treating the major issues of the day.
General trends in the press would make themselves felt in China too. Complaints about the “Americanization” of the press were to be heard there as in Europe after the First World War.
After China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894â95, a climate of agitation gripped its intellectuals across the political spectrum as they analyzed the country's acute crisis and future prospects. In Japan, by contrast, the war led to the patriotic mobilization of the reading public, fueled by a press that justified overseas ambitions and had seen its sales permanently rise by at least a quarter in the wake of the conflict.
Chinese press, much of it published abroad or in the treaty ports, sold fewer copies than the large dailies and used a demanding style that made it inaccessible to a mass readership. But it played an extremely important role in the politicization of new “middle strata”âreform-minded journalists actually spoke of a “middle level of society” (
)âin the cities of the interior too.
The Chinese press took on a new polemical tone. But the imperial government did not grant the room for maneuver that the semi-free press of colonial India was able to enjoy. Until 1911 both the Chinese and English-language papers could only prosper in the coastal enclaves, under the protection of foreign laws. Chinese and foreign journalists worked closely together there, sharing a common interest in the problems of reform in China.
In the Ottoman Empire, too, the 1870s witnessed hesitant steps toward a private press independent of the state apparatus. The first semiofficial weekly (in Arabic) was founded in 1861 and kept going until 1883.
Censorship continued, of course, and was even placed on a legal footing in 1867. Under Sultan AbdÃ¼lhamid II, controls on public opinion became more oppressive and the printed media had to be very cautious. There were no liberal enclaves such as Hong Kong or Shanghai in China. Opposition newspapers and periodicals were printed in Paris, London, or Geneva and smuggled into the country in private correspondence.
An exception in this respect was Egypt, only nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, where Khedive Ismail (r. 1863â79) tried to cultivate good terms with the press and skillfully used it for his own purposes. Ismail understood that a docile journalism that relied on official handouts was worthless; what he wanted were papers that appeared independent and could be manipulated behind the scenes. Domestic as well as foreign journalists received lavish gifts, while the British and French news agencies were quietly subsidized.
However, such relative liberalism also encouraged genuinely private initiatives. The most important was the founding of
in 1876 by two brothers of Catholic Lebanese origin,
Salim and Bishara Taqla. A daily since 1881,
made reliable and up-to-date information available from all over the world, together with a measure of critical commentary; no one could fail to see that the Taqla brothers were in favor of greater liberalism and against foreign intervention. Between 1877 and 1882, thirty political papers were appearing in Cairo and Alexandria, with a total print run of 24,000 a day (in 1881).
Apart from articles of their own, they also contained translations of material from European papers such as the London
. On the eve of the British occupation in 1882, the Egyptian press presented a varied landscape in both Arabic and European languages. This remained the case in the subsequent period of de facto British rule (1882â1922): the spread of printing technology, rising literacy, a more professional journalism, and the liberal attitude of the British authorities combined to make the country an island of freedom of opinion in the Middle East. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the potential readership for newspapers, though still tiny, grew in size and opened up a public sphere for political argument. Furthermore, oral forms of dissemination made it possible to satisfy a hunger for news that was increasing at a faster rate than literacy. In the Ottoman Empire, only the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, which put an end to the sultan's autocracy, unleashed the forces of a press system rooted in civil society.
Birth of the Mass-Circulation Press
Most innovations in the press came from the United States, as did the major developments in print technology. The first rotary press was built in Philadelphia in 1846. Between 1886 and 1890 a German immigrant in Baltimore, the watchmaker Ottmar Mergenthaler, finally solved the problem of slow throughput by means of a keyboard-operated “hot metal” linotype machine that represented the most important advance since Gutenberg's movable-type printing press.
There were also organizational breakthroughs that began in the United States and then crossed the Atlantic. Unheard-of sales figures were achieved with the birth of the East Coast “penny press” in the 1830sâcheap newspapers for the masses, printed on poor-quality paper, with no stock market prices but teeming with crime reports and other sensational material. The same period also saw the growth of “investigative journalism,” involving a house reporter who would probe suspicious deaths, immorality, and political scandals. For decades visitors from Europe would turn up their noses at these trends in the American press, until similar investigations became common in Britain and elsewhere.
This kind of press went together with the growth of democracy, a few decades ahead of Europe; the communications media took the workers seriously once the latter gained the right to vote. Such newspapers mirrored their age more than they analyzed it.