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Straits Times began with call for press freedom

The Straits Times is marking its 168th anniversary today with a cornucopia of gifts. Lucky readers stand to win among other things a trip for two to London while another lucky pair will go to Munich to test-drive the latest BMW. The birthday bash behoves a golden goose of a newspaper which as the only English-language daily newspaper of record in Singapore commands an average daily circulation of 389,700, according to its parent, Singapore Press Holdings. The big fat newspaper now, often running to more than 100 pages, is very different from the slim inaugural issue which had only advertisements on the front page (see below).

Front page of the Straits Times' inaugural issue, July 15, 1845

Front page of the Straits Times’ inaugural issue, July 15, 1845

The Straits Times launched with a clarion call for freedom of the press. This is what the historian CM Turnbull wrote in Dateline Singapore, the Straits Times’ official history published to mark the newspaper’s 150th anniversary:

The first issue of the Straits Times and Singapore Journal of Commerce appeared on the morning of  July 15, 1845, published from No 7 Commercial Square. It was a weekly paper of eight folio pages, printed with new type and on “fine English paper”.

However obscure the origins of the paper might be, (Robert Carr) Woods was clear about his aims. The print run comprised only a few dozen copies, but he wanted to impress on his readers the grand design and lofty principles behind his publication. As his first editorial explained:

“Good morning to you kind reader… We proceed to declare our sentiments whilst we aver the honourableness of our intentions…

“We need not seek out arguments in support of the unfettered liberty which the Press should possess, because there are few in whose breast a doubt is entertained respecting the benefits derived and derivable from Public Journalism. The Press is allowed to be ‘the fourth estate’ and ought never to be wanting in an unequivocal and zealous maintenance of its object, since it embraces a defence of the immunities and privileges of a free people. A knowledge of the fact that the Press is free serves to deepen the conviction that its end is fulfilled so long only as it upholds fearlessly the integrity of national institutions, laying bare to the eye whatever abuses spring up or exist , and by its faithful advocacy of public rights secure to the governed protection against the innovations or misrule of the governing. These are the primary uses of the Press, to which the communication of intelligence and miscellaneous information are merely secondary… “

You can read the whole editorial online on NewspaperSG maintained by the National Library.

Editorial in the Straits Times' inaugural issue, July 15, 1845

Editorial in the Straits Times’ inaugural issue, July 15, 1845

About the author: Abhijit Nag loves reading, writing and getting news and information online.