Contributors to nineteenth-century British periodicals perceived the press as the principal medium of public conversation. Convinced of its real or potential power, they examined it thoroughly. They discovered its roots in ancient Rome, Renaissance Amsterdam, or the English Civil Wars. They described its adolescence in the eighteenth-century western world and delineated its maturity in Britain, if not the empire and foreign realms, during the Victorian epoch. They attested, not always with enthusiasm, to the evolution of the domestic press from an aristocratic to a democratic institution and emphasized its standing internationally, supposedly due to accurate and impartial news gathering and thoughtful commentary. Discussion ranged broadly, but persistent motifs were the nexus between the press and government; changes in newspapers, magazines, and reviews; the definition of journalist and its consequences for training and reward; how these circumstances compared or contrasted with those in other places.
The Impact of Government
Serials of all persuasions noticed Parliament's history of interference with the press. Pieces surfaced on the stamp duty passed in 1712, the subsequent imposts on advertising and paper, the resistance of Members to admitting reporters, the press curbs in 1819, and the ongoing prosecutions for seditious or blasphemous libel and subventions from cabinets. Writers simultaneously and retrospectively protested or celebrated these actions and similar ones of colonial governors and Continental governments. In this discourse, taxes either inhibited “news” papers for the poor and fattened the treasury, or deterred uprisings; Ireland consistently typified prosecutions and Russia, censorship; India and France inconsistently typified both.
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