Media is still a fledgling institution within the Indian community. Nevertheless, this is changing gradually as we witness so many individuals and organizations investing in media -Maha Sabha’s Radio and TV Jagriti, SWAHA’s recent acquisition of IETV, Sankhya TV and ICDN, an online newspaper and “Hot like Pepper Radio” located in Couva.
Media owned by non-Indians with an Indian cultural format operate purely for profit and employ an Indian staff with the focus on attracting advertising dollars from the Indian community and to prevent leakages from their businesses into the pockets of Indians.
Much is peddled that Indians pioneered the Express Newspaper. I don’t have any definite information on this. What I learned is that the Express came into existence in 1967 after the Guardian purchased the Daily Mirror and the displaced journalists were on the breadline. I was told that Ram Kirpalani, Joseph Charles and Tajmool Hussain were among the founders of the Express Newspapers. However, these three Indians later sold their shares and for good reasons.
Bhadase Sagan Maraj, founder of the SDMS, businessman and politician, started a weekly newspaper in the 1960s named The Bomb. Patrick Chokolingo, an experienced journalist, was his editor. Under the editorship of Chokolingo the Heat was born.
Sat Maharaj took over the editorship from Patrick Chokolingo who went on to start two weeklies-the T&T Mirror & The Punch. The Chokolingo family went on to launch the Newsday, a daily, in the 1980s.
The Bomb continued under the editorship of Sat Maharaj and died with the passing of Sat Maharaj last year. The T&T Mirror & The Punch were also shut down recently.
The newspapers owned by Indians do everything not to appear Indian. News about Indians are marginalized and Indians only make the front page for negative things such as domestic violence, corruption and fraud.
Ram Kirpalani, Tajmool Hosein and Joseph Charles realized early that so long as they are major shareholders, the political directorate would stifle the disbursement of advertising revenue to the Express. This is compounded by the local Indian businesses shying away from advertising in an Indian paper for fear of being branded racist, with consequential narrowing of their profit margins. Even opposition politicians are fearful of association with such a paper and prefer to give their ads to the media owned by the 1% with predominantly creole patrons who are generally not inclined to support the Opposition.
The first Indian formatted radio was 103 Fm and the license was granted by the NAR government. I wonder aloud whether such a license would have been granted if the station was 100% Indian owned?
A few years later the Maha Sabha applied for a license to operate a radio station and a TV station but were denied. The Maha Sabha went to the courts challenging the denial all the way to the Privy Council in London where it was ruled that the government discriminated against the Maha Sabha.
Early efforts at developing an Indian media were one-man enterprises with a disinclination to work as a team. Hence, the early media were short lived. Lallape’s Koh-I-Noor Gazette (October 1898- April 1899), the first Indian newspaper, lasted a mere seven months. While the Koh-I-Noor defended the Indian community from unwarranted attacks from the Creole society, its editor, Effendi Bey, was an Anglican and a proud supporter of British rule which he interpreted as the savior of Indians. Not surprisingly, Indian identity was a major theme of the early Indian paper.
Sarran Teelucksingh, a co-founder of the Patriot (1921-25) abandoned the Patriot Newspaper in 1925 when he contested a seat in the Legislative Assembly and won. It was clear that the Patriot was only a vehicle to take him to Parliament.
CB Mathura, founder and editor of the East Indian Weekly (1928-33) and the Indian (1937-57) was a councilor in the Port of Spain City Corporation. His paper carried news on social and cultural activities and provided a forum to debate social issues such as miscegenation, poverty, illiteracy and preservation of cultural identity.
S. M. Ramesar, founder of the Observer-Organ of Indian Opinion (1941-70s), was another person that played a pivotal role in developing an Indian media. His enterprise was ably supported by other prominent Indians such as Martin Sampath, Denis Mahabir and H.P. Singh. With such high level of co-operation, the Observer lasted more than 30 years.
Kamal Persad noted that these early papers were sole trader enterprises and Port of Spain based with the exception of one newspaper that was located in Princes Town.
In the 1980s a few pamphlets came into existence – Mukdar-Lloyd Haridan, Krishna Gannysingh and Ramdath Jagessar; IRRA-Ramdath Jagessar; Indian Review Press-Kamla Persaad and Ashram Maharaj, Jagriti Magazine -Pandita Indrani Rampersad.
Sandesh was a monthly paper was founded by Kenneth Lalla and was well circulated in the community covering social, cultural and religious events in the community. Unfortunately, Sandesh was a victim of the 1990 attempted coup when its equipment was stolen and the office was vandalized. Many magazines were also produced by temples and organizations celebrating a mile stone in their history or a special event or religious festival-Divali, Phagwa or Ram Leela.
Seva Media: Projects such as the Indian Night Shelter and Bengal Famine Relief Funds in the 1940s were driven by the then Indian newspaper-the Indian and the Observer. These projects appealed to the collective consciousness of the Indian community and rallied them to respond to the plight of their fellowmen.
TV Jagriti has played similar roles to bring relief supplies for victims of flooding in rural communities. The appeal of Jagriti pushed the community to make generous contributions to their brothers and sister in distress and the absence of help from governmental organizations.
Generally, the other media houses neglect the plight of rural victims who are mainly Indians. Women from the 1% community were actively loading supplies into containers to take to Dominica when it was wrecked by a hurricane. However, these said women have never bothered to respond to the plight of Indian families in the rural districts of Penal, Debe, Woodland and Barrackpore struggling under flood waters for days.
Community Media: There is the need to develop community media to highlight achievements of young Indians in academia, sports, etc. We also need to use media to project agriculture as a lucrative industry to create employment and wealth. Last week, ICDN sponsored a Zoom program with three officers of the newly formed Hindu Pariwar Credit Union. ICDN has pledged to provide its full support the growth of this financial institution.
Resistance Media: The early media were used to struggle for social justice-against racism and other forms of attacks against the Indian community. It was also used to highlight the social plight of Indians. The early media defended the Indian community from attacks by the French Creole media, in particular the Port of Spain Gazette.
Through the pages of the Indian press personalities such as FEM Hussein, an Arima-based lawyer and Adrian Cola Rienzi rose to prominence as defenders of the Indian community.
ICDN- ICDN is a diaspora paper with contributors of articles from not only Trinidad and Guyana but also the US and Canada. Recently, ICDN launched a Zoom session on Sundays -7:30 -9:00 p.m. This program attracts an audience averaging 75 persons from as distant Fiji, London and Holland. Through our online paper and Zoom program ICDN wrote articles and held discussions supporting the call of the Guyanese people for the David Granger and his defeated party to give way to the victorious PPP/C.
Recently, Indians took to social media to defend and protect the Ramsaran family after the removal of their dairy products from supermarket shelves. Indians, using social media, called for boycott of business houses. This resulted in a hasty uplifting of the ban. Leading this struggle were young people. Three names I want to highlight: Dr. Kirk Meighoo, former Independent Senator and lecturer at the UWI, Dr. Rolf Balgobin, former President of the TTMA and Dr. Raymond Ramcharitar, columnists.
It is clear to me that media is an instrument to serve and protects the rights and freedom of the people and more so the downtrodden.
- Source: Kamal Persad, “The Indian Press 1898-1947”, dissertation for Master’s Degree in History, 2001, St Augustine Campus, UWI.
- Interview with Vishnu Gosine.