Indian Press under the British Rule
During the reign of the British Empire, there were several Acts passed as stringent curbs over the Indian Press.
Prior to the rumblings of the 1857 mutiny, the Press was fiercely involved in rallying the masses, and inevitably, the British government was increasingly becoming apprehensive about the Press’ freedom.
Through the newspapers, a nationalistic rebellion was slowly being pieced together through words and symbols.
The circulation of papers during the early period never exceeded a hundred or two hundreds. These journals usually aimed to cater to the intellectual entertainment of the Europeans and the Anglo Indians. There was hardly any danger of public opinion being subverted in India.
What really worried these Company’s officers was the apprehension that these newspapers might reach London and expose their misdoings to the Home authorities. In the absence of press laws, the newspapers were at the mercy of the Company’s officials. The Government sometimes enforced pre-censorship, sometimes deported the offending editor for anti-government policies
The Censorship of the Press Act, 1799
Lord Wellesley imposed severe censorship on all newspapers. The Censorship of the Press Act, 1799, imposed almost wartime restrictions on the press. These regulations required:
- The newspaper was to clearly print in every issue the name of the printer, the editor and the proprietor.
- The publisher was to submit all material for pre-censorship to the Secretary to the Government.
- The breach of these rules was punishable with immediate deportation.
In 1807 the Censorship Act was extended to cover journals, pamphlets and even books. The relaxation of press restrictions came under Lord Hastings.
Licensing regulation Act, 1823
Adams’s brief administration of seven months was marked by great energy, but it is remembered only by his illiberal proceedings against the press, and his vindictive persecution of Mr. Buckingham, who had come out to Calcutta in 1818, and established the “Calcutta Journal.” It was the ablest newspaper which had ever appeared in India, and gave a higher tone and a deeper interest to journalism.
The editor, availing himself of the liberty granted to the press by Lord Hastings, commented on public measures with great boldness, and sometimes with a degree of severity which was considered dangerous.
But the great offence of the Journal consisted in the freedom of its remarks on some of the leading members of Government. They had been nursed in the lap of despotism, and their feelings of official complacency were rudely disturbed by the sarcasms inflicted on them.
A Regulation was accordingly passed in April, 1823, which completely extinguished the “freedom of unlicensed printing,” but the Calcutta Journal continued to write with the same spirit as before.
A petition to disallow the press Regulation was presented to the Privy Council, and rejected without any hesitation.
Vernacular Press Act, 1878
The Vernacular Press Act of 1878 was enacted to curtail the freedom of the Indian-languages’ press.
Lord Lytton was being bitterly criticized for the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80). So, he promulgated the act with an aim to prevent the vernacular press from expressing criticism of British policies under him. The act excluded English-language publications. It elicited strong and sustained protests from a wide spectrum of the Indian populace.
It was nicknamed the ‘Gagging Act’. For the first time, any Act empowered the Government to issue search warrants, and enter newspaper premises even without court ordersMore stringent anti-press laws were enacted in the passage of time, particularly when the freedom movement gained momentum. Reporting was closely monitored and comments against govt. were not tolerated.
The law was repealed in 1881 by Lytton’s successor, Lord Ripon. However, the resentment it produced among Indians became one of the catalysts giving rise to India’s growing independence movement.
Indian Newspaper Act, 1908
The adverse comments of the newspapers against the government led it to follow a repressive policy and enacted the Newspapers (Incite to Offences) Act, 1908.
The Newspaper Act, of 1908 laid down several principles, terms and condition. Magistrates were empowered to confiscate printing press, property connected to of newspapers, which published objectionable materials serving as incitement to murder or acts of violence.
The local government was authorized to terminate any declaration made by the printer and publisher of the newspaper, which had been found offender under the Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867.
The newspapers editors and the printers were given the option to appeal to the High Court within fifteen days of the order of the penalty of the Press.
Indian Press Act, 1910
The Indian Press Act 1910 was a legislation propagated that imposed stringent censorship and restriction of on all types of publications. The measure was put into effect in order to curtail and restrict the emerging Indian freedom struggle, particularly with the advent of World War I.
Press Committee, 1921
In 1921, on the recommendations of a Press Committee chaired by Tej Bahadur Sapru, the Press Acts of 1908 and 1910 were repealed.
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.
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.