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Pre-independence regulation of Indian newspapers

Pre-independence regulation of Indian newspapers
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Newspapers have played an important role in the Indian freedom struggle. The British government saw the emergence and growth of Indian newspapers as a...

Defence of India Rules was imposed for repression of political agitation and free public criticism during the First World War. In 1921, on the recommendations of a Press Committee chaired by TejBahadurSapru, the Press Acts of 1908 and 1910 were repealed. Under the Defence of India Rules, repression was imposed and amendments were made in the Press Emergency Act and heOfficial Secrets Act. At a certain time, publication of all news related to Congress activity was declared illegal.

Newspapers have played an important role in the Indian freedom struggle. The British government saw the emergence and growth of Indian newspapers as a threat and hence took several measures to suppress it through various acts and laws.The Bengal Gazette by Augustus Hickey was seized in 1807 for the criticising government.

Early Regulations

Censorship of Press Act, 1799 Lord Wellesley enacted the regulation anticipating the French invasion of India. It had almost imposed wartime press restrictions including pre-censorship. These restrictions were relaxed under Lord Hastings, who had progressive views, and in 1818, pre-censorship was dispensed.

Licensing Regulations, 1823

The then acting Governor-General John Adams, who had reactionary views(to what?), enacted the regulation. According to these regulations, starting or using a press without a licence was a penal offence. These restrictions were directed chiefly against Indian language newspapers or those edited by Indians. Rammohan Roy’s Mirat-ul-Akbar had to stop its publication with the emergence of this act.

Press Act of 1835 or Metcalfe

Act Metcalfe Governor- General(1835-36) repealed the obnoxious 1823 ordinance and earned the epithet, “liberator of the Indian press”. The new Press Act (1835) required a printer/publisher to give a precise account of premises of a publication and cease functioning, if required by a similar declaration. The result of a liberal press policy was the rapid growth of newspapers.

Licensing Act, 1857

Due to the emergency caused by the 1857 revolt, this Act imposed licensing restrictions in any addition to the already existing registration procedure laid down by Metcalfe Act and the government reserved the right to stop publication and circulation of any book, newspaper or printed matter as it deemed fit.

Registration Act, 1867

This act replaced Metcalfe’s Act of 1835 and was of a regulatory, not restrictive, nature. As per the Act, (i) every book/newspaper was required to print the name of the printer and the publisher and the place of the publication; and (ii) a copy was to be submitted to the local government within one month of the publication of a book.

Vernacular Press Act, 1878

A bitter legacy of the 1857 revolt was the racial bitterness between the ruler and the ruled. After 1858, the European press always rallied behind the Government in political controversies while the vernacular press was critical of the Government. There was strong public opinion against the imperialistic policies of Lytton, compounded by terrible famine (1876-77), on the one hand, and lavish expenditure on the imperial Delhi Durbar, on the other. The Vernacular Press Act (VPA) was designed to ‘better control’ the vernacular press and effectively punish and repress seditious writing.

The provisions of the Act included the following

1. The district magistrate was empowered to call upon the printer and publisher of any vernacular newspaper to enter into a bond with the Government undertaking not to cause disaffection against the Government or antipathy between persons of different religions, caste, race through published material; the printer and publisher could also be required to deposit security which could be forfeited if the regulation were contravened, and press equipment could be seized if the offence re-occurred.

2. The magistrate’s action was final and no appeal could be made in a court of law.

3. A vernacular newspaper could get exemption from the operation of the Act by submitting proofs to a government censor.

Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908

Aimed against extremist nationalist activity, the act empowered the magistrates to confiscate press property which published objectionable material likely to cause incitement to murder/ acts of violence.

Indian Press Act, 1910

This Act revived the worst features of the VPA—local government was empowered to demand a security at registration from the printer/publisher and forfeit/deregister if it was an offending newspaper, and the printer of a newspaper was required to submit two copies of each issue to local government free of charge.

Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931

This Act gave sweeping powers to provincial governments to suppress propaganda for Civil Disobedience Movement. It was further amplified in 1932 to include all activities calculated to undermine government authority.

After Independence

Press Enquiry Committee, 1947

The Committee was set up to examine press laws in the light of fundamental rights formulated by the Constituent Assembly. It recommended repeal of Indian Emergency Powers Act, 1931, amendments in Press and Registration of Books Act, modifications in Sections 124-A and 156-A of IPC, among others.

Press (Objectionable Matters) Act, 1951

The Act was passed along with amendment to Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. The Act empowered the government to demand and forfeit security for publication of “objectionable matter”. Aggrieved owners and printers were given right to demand trial by jury. It remained in force till 1956.

Press Commission under Justice Rajadhyaksha

The commission recommended in 1954 the establishing of All India Press Council, fixing the press-page schedule system for newspapers, banning crossword puzzle competitions, evol¬ving a strict code of advertisements by newspapers, and the desirability of preventing concentration in ownership of Indian newspapers.

Other Acts passed include Delivering of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954; Working Journalists (Conditions of Services) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955; Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956; and Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publications) Act, 1960.

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