Funday Times - Our Heritage

Another Sinhala newspaper launched
Gaveshaka records significant events in August after Independence

The history of Sinhala newspaper history dates back to 1860. 'Lankaloka' has been recorded as the first Sinhala newspaper. Not much is known about the paper.

A hundred years later, a new Sinhala newspaper was born on August 14, 1961. That was 'Dawasa' published by M. D. Gunasena & Company – well known in book publishing at the time. The new company established to publish the newspaper was the Independent Newspapers Ltd.

First issue of the 'Dinamina' in 1909 The inaugural issue of 'Dawasa'

The idea of a new Sinhala newspaper was born in the mind of D. B. Dhanapala, who had by then established a name for himself as a most dynamic journalist. Having had a stint in the 'Daily News' as a writer, he was instrumental in promoting the Times of Ceylon group to start a Sinhala newspaper to compete with the only other daily Sinhala newspaper, 'Dinamina' published by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (ANCL) popularly known as Lake House. (Started on December 17, 1909, 'Dinamina' was bought up by ANCL founder D. R. Wijewardene in 1919).

Dhanapala succeeded in giving new vigour to Sinhala journalism with his innovative thinking through the 'Lankadipa' launched on October 29, 1947. While Dhanapala did the planning, the well-known scholar Julius de Lanerolle was editor. Dhanapala took over the editorship in 1949.

After resigning from the Times group, Dhanapala was keen to start yet another Sinhala newspaper and approached several businessmen. Though a Sinhala weekly was started ('Divaina' was its name) it did not last long. Sepala Gunasena, a director of M. D. Gunasena & Company showed interest and thus was begun the third newspaper company in the country – the Independent Newspapers group.

'Dawasa' was its first publication. It was soon followed by a Sinhala weekly, the 'Rividina' on August 20, 1960. (Its name was changed to 'Riviresa' in January 1963). An evening weekly 'Sawasa' was also begun the same year.

Dhanapala again succeeded in giving the Sinhalese reader a newspaper with a difference. A new look was given in the presentation of news, features and photographs. 'Dawasa' soon became popular with the readers who accepted the newspaper as one with independent views devoted to voicing the aspirations of the people.

The new company continued to break new ground and within six years had 16 regular publications to its credit. These included two English newspapers – 'Sun,' a daily and 'Weekend,' released on Sunday.
The newspaper group was sealed by the government on March 20, 1974 under Emergency Regulations enacted, resulting in the demise of Independent Newspapers Ltd after 13 years.

Early days of English newspapers

By the time the first Sinhala newspaper appeared in 1860, several English newspapers had been published in Sri Lanka. The 'Colombo Journal' (1832) was the first to be launched when Robert Wilmot Horton was the Governor. It was followed by the 'Observer and Commercial Advertiser (1834). The 'Ceylon Chronicle' was the next launched in May 1837, with the ' Ceylon Herald' starting publication in September 1838. These newspapers were short-lived as was the 'Ceylon Advertiser and General Intelligencer' which lasted just eight months – September 1845 to April 1846.

A few European merchants started the 'Examiner' (January 1846) which, after several changes in ownership, passed on to a syndicate of Ceylonese lawyers and its name changed to 'Ceylon Examiner.' It was recognised as the organ of the Ceylonese and had considerable influence on the Government and the bureaucracy. It was also regarded as the first English newspaper in the country that gave something to its readers other than commercial and administrative news.

'Ceylon Times' came into being in July 1846, to further the interest of the mercantile community. It became the 'Times of Ceylon' as an evening daily in 1883. The 'Ceylon Independent'(July 1888) claimed to be the paper with the largest circulation. It was selling 3,270 copies. It continued to be published for fifty years till 1937. The 'Ceylon Standard' was started in January 1898, which continued until 1907.

While these newspapers were being published in Colombo, several newspapers appeared in the outstations. The oldest newspaper outside Colombo was the 'Ceylon Freeman' founded in Jaffna in 1862. Two more weekly papers were started in Jaffna – the 'Ceylon Patriot' (1863) and the 'Catholic Guardian' (1876). In Kandy, the 'Kandy Herald' was started in 1868, but was in existence for just over a year.

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