29. History of the Press in India

The Indian press after 1857 developed rapidly owing to the increasing political consciousness of the people. The history of the press in India starts with the Englishmen in the days of East India company. The Bengal Gazette was started as a weekly in 1780 by Hicky. The journal criticised Warren Hastings the Governor-General and the journal has to be stopped. Mr. Hicky was a pioneer in the history of journalism in India. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 stimulated Indian interest in political development. The majority of the papers were written in vernaculars though a few of them were in English. The old Bengali paper ‘Hindu Patriot’ continued to be the leading journal under the able editorship of Krishtodas Pol. The paper wielded such an immense influence that even the Government consulted this paper in order to feel the pulse of public feeling.
The ‘Indian Mirror’ in the English language founded by
Keshab Chandra Sen in August 1861 attained popularity for its liberal social and political views. Another important English paper the Bengalee founded in 1862 became a vehicle of political propaganda from 1879 under the editorship of Surendra Nath Banerjee.
Vernacular Press Act 1878
Lord Lytton was a great imperialist and his forward policy was responsible for the tragedy of the Second Afghan War. He was universally condemned by the Indians. Lord Lytton also hit back. He got the Vernacular Press Act enacted. This Act was nick named as the Gaging Act. It empowered a magistrate to require a printer or publisher to deposit security or enter into a bond bending himself not to print or publish anything likely to incite feelings of dissatisfaction towards the Government or hatred between the different races of India. The government was authorised to warn as well as to confiscate the plant, the deposit etc. in the event of the publication of some undesirable matter. The printer was given the option of submitting proofs to the official censor and dropping all rejected matter and thus escape from the clutches of law.
The Indians condemned the Act in the strongest possible terms. As a result of this legislation seditions and disloyal writing stopped completely and there was no interference with the legitimate expression of opinion. According to S.N. Banerjee “with in less then 15 months, the Vernacular Press all over India save that of Madras was muzzled”. A big meeting was held in the townhall of Calcutta. It was one of the most successful meetings ever held in India. It sounded the death knell of the ‘Vernacular Press Act.’ In an article in the Times of India. Sir Fhirozeshah Mehta also criticised the Act. He pointed out that the Vernacular Press was not guilty of disloyalty to the British rule. It was at all time difficult to draw the line between server though just criticism of Government and its measures and the licentious abuse of them bordering on the preaching of sedition and the propagation of disaffection. If the judges of distinctions were to be very men who were the objects of criticism, they would be more than human if in course of time and by gradual stages all hostile criticism was not brought within the pale of prescription.
There was a change of Ministry of England in 1880. When the Conservative Party was defeated and the Liberal Party came to power Lord Lytton was called from India and Lord Ripon was appointed his successor. But inspite of his sympathetic attitude the Vernacular Press Act could be repealed at once. This was done in 1882.
The News Paper Act 1908
The partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon and his anti Indian policy resulted in a lot of agitation in the country. A movement was set on foot to drive out the Englishmen bag and baggage from the country. Consequently News papers (Incitement to offences) Act was passed in June 1908. The object of the Act was to put an end to the existence of those newspapers which contained any incitement to murder or any offence under the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 or any act of violences. According to this Act, a district magistrate was empowered to confiscate the printing press where a newspaper containing an incitement to violence was published. The Government was also authorised to annual the declaration of the printer or publishers of the newspaper under the Act of 1877.
On account of the strongest provisions of the Act of 1908, the ‘Yugantar’ and ‘Sandhye’ and the ‘Bande Matram’ stopped their publication.
The Indian Press Act 1910
The Act of 1910 empowered a magistrate to require a deposit of not less than Rs. 500 and not more then Rs. 2,000, from the keepers of new printing press and publishers of newspapers. The Local Government was empowered to require the existing presses and publishers of news papers to deposit not less then Rs. 500 and not more than Rs. 500 as security. A magistrate was authorised to dispense with the deposit of any security or cancel or vary any order already issued in this connection if he had any special reasons for doing so.
The Act of 1910 defined the term objectionable matter whose publication was to entitle the Government to declare security forfeited to his Majesty. All attempts direct or indirect, to seduce persons as employed in His Majesty’s defence forces or to intimidate the people to give money for revolutionary work or to prevent them from giving help in discovering or punishing revolutionary crime were included in the definition of objectionable matter. The definition of seditious publication was widened to included writing against the Indian Princes, judges, executive officers and public servants. Section IV was so worded as to leave little scope for independent criticism of Government action by the press. The power of deciding whether any particular publication did or did not offend against section IV was given to the Provincial Government and not to the ordinary courts. If the security of a printing press or newspaper wanted to make a fresh declaration under the Act of 1867 each of them had to deposit with the magistrate a security of not less than Rs. 1000 and not more than Rs. 10,000. If in the opinion of the Government, the printing press of the newspaper offended against section IV of the Act, the security was to be forfeited to His Majesty.
The Act also authorised the custom officers and officers of the post offices to detain any pocket or parcel or consignment suspected to contain any objectionable matter and to deliver the same to the Provincial Government. Provision was made for an appeal to the High Court. It was to be heard by a special Bench of three judges. The appeal was to be filed within two months of the date of order of forfeiture by the Provincial Government.
Criticism of the Act of 1910 : The Indian Press Act of 1910 muzzled the Indian press. There was lot of hue and cry throughout the length and breadth of the country. The Press Association of Indian exposed the shortcomings of the new legislation and tried to save the newspaper and presses from the arbitrary orders of the Government. The Act was vigoroulsy applied during the World War I. It was pointed out in 1919 that the Act of 1910 had penalised over 350 presses. Securities amounting to over $ 40,000 were demanded from 300 newspapers. Over 400 publication were penalized. Owing to the demand of security more than 200 printing presses and 130 newspapers were not started. News papers like Amrita Bazar Patrika, Bombay Chronicle, The Hindu, The Tribune, The Punjabi, Hindvasi etc. were subjected to the rigours of the Act. Although the public demanded an impartial inquiry into the allegation, there demand was not conceded.
A special Bench of Calcutta High Court tried the case entitled Mohammad Ali verses Emperor and Chief justice Jenkins and Justice Stephen passed certain strictures in their judgements.
The Indian Press (Emergency Power) Act 1931
During the 1920’s nothing significant happened in the field of the Indian Press. However, the Indian National Congress decided at its Lahore session in 1929 to start a vigorous campaign for the emancipation of the country. In pursuance of that Resolution 26th January was declared as the Independence Day and the Civil Disobedience Movement started in full swing in 1930. The Indian Press also played a very important part in the freedom movement. It exposed the acts of omission and commission of the British Government. Prominent place was given to the arrests of the leaders and lathi charging of the people. It was in this atmosphere that the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act was passed in 1931. The object of that Act was to provide against the publication of that matter which incited or encouraged murder or violence. Provision was made for the deposit of security by the keepers of printing presses. The Provincial Government was given the power to declare the security of the press forfeited in certain cases. If a printer applied of a first declaration, he would be required by a magistrate to deposit a security of the value of not less than Rs. 1000 and not more than Rs. 10,000 as the magistrate might thing fit. If even after the forfeiture of the security and the deposit of a new security the news paper published objectionable matter, the Provisions which applied to keepers of printing presses equally applied to the publishers of the newspapers. The Government was given the power to seize and forfeit undeclared presses producing unauthorised news sheets and newspapers. The penalty was imprisonment up to 6 months with or without fine. The Provincial Government could issue search warrants and declare certain publications forfeited to His Majesty.
It is obvious that the powers conferred by the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act of 1931 were sweeping in their nature and scope. The powers were used by the Provincial Governments to prohibit the publication of the names and portraits of well known leaders of the civil disobedience movement. Under this Act of 1931, the Government took action against many newspapers. The printers and publishers of the Bombay Chronicle were called upon to deposit Rs. 3,000 each for publishing an article of Harniman. The printer and publisher of the Anand Bazar Patrika each received demand for s. 1,000. A security of Rs. 6,000 was deposited by the Liberty of Calcutta, A security of Rs. 6,000 was deposited by The Free Press Journal and was later on forfeited by the Bombay Government. Similar actions were taken against other journals also. Virtually there was a reign of terror in the country.
Foreign Relations Act, 1932
The Foreign Relations Act of 1932 replaced on Ordinance of 1931. Its object was to penalize publications calculated to interfere with the maintenance of good relations between His Majesty’s Government and friendly foreign states. The necessity of this law arose when the news papers criticised the administration in certain states adjoining the frontiers of India. The Act provided that where an offence under chapter XXI of the Indian Penal Code was committed against the ruler of a state outside but adjoining India or against the consort or son of Principal Minister of such a ruler, the Governor-General in council might make or authorise any person to make a complaint in writing of such an offence and any court competent in other respects to take cognizance of such a complaint. Any book, news paper or other document containing such specified defamatory matter which tended to prejudice the maintenance of friendly relations between His Majesty’s Government and the Government of such state, could be retained in the same manner as seditious literature.
In January 1933, four ordinances were promulgated which conferred certain powers for the maintenance of law and order and particularly widened the operative sections of the Press Act so as to permit action against the publication of matter calculated to encourage the civil disobedience movement.
Indian (States Protection) Act, 1934
The object of this Act was to prevent unreasonable attacks on the administration of Indian states in the newspapers of British Indian and provided authorities in British India with powers to deal with hands or demonstrators organised on semi-military lines, for the purpose of entering and spreading disaffection in the territories of the Indian states. The above laws continued to remain in force upto 1939 when the World War broke out.
In order to meet the difficult situation, the Government of Indian was forced to pass the Defence of Indian Rules. These Rules enabled the Government of control the Indian Press for six long years. Action was taken against those newspapers which dared to violate the above Rules and laws. However, the Act and the rules lapsed after the ending of World War II.
Press Trust of India Ltd. (1948) : The most notable event in Indian journalism in 1948 was the formation of the Press Trust of India Ltd. This organisation took over the supply of news to and from India. This was done on the basis of an agreement with the Reuters. The agreement enabled the Indian Press to get complete control over its own internal news supply. The Press Act is a non-profit making concern and membership is open to all newspapers of India. The P.T.I. has now become independent of the Reuters.
Press Laws Enquiry Committee 1948
The Government of India set up a Press Law inquiry committee under the Charimanship of Ganga Nath Jha. The committee was required to gather all the existing press laws of India and make recommendations as to what directions in which the law required to be modified. The central legislature nominated some members to the committee. Three editors were also recommended by the Indian Newspaper Editors conference. The Committee made the following recommendations :
(i) An explanation should be added to section 153 A.I.P.C. (promoting enmity between classes) to the effect that it does not amount to an offence under that section to advocate a change in the social or economic order provided such advocacy does not involve violence.
(ii) Repeal of the Indian states (Protection) Act of 1934.
(iii) Repeal of the Foreign Relations Act of 1932.
(iv) Before taking action against the press under emergency legislation, provincial Governments, should invariably consult the press advisory committee or similar body.
(v) Repeal of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act of 1932 was recommended but it was also suggested that certain provisions of that Act which did not find a place in the ordinary law of the country should be incorporated into the law at suitable places.
(vi) Section 124-A I.P.C. relating to sedition should be amended so as to apply to acts or words which either incite disorder or are intended or tend to incite disorder.
(vii) Section 144 Cr. P.C. should not be applied to the press and separate provision should be made, if necessary, for dealing with the press in urgent cases of apprehended danger.
Necessary provision should be made in the law to empower courts to order the closing down of a press for a special period in case of repeated violations of law.
The Indian Constitution : Article 19 of the new Constitution of India which came in force on January 26, 1950 provided for the freedom of expression. However, it was found from experience that the right to freedom of expression was held by some courts to be so comprehensive that no action could be taken against any individual who advocated murder and other violent crimes. Consequently the Constitution First Amendment Act was passed in June 1951. It was provided that the right to freedom of speech was to be subject to all laws imposing restrictions with regard to the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, Public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation and incite to offences.
Press (Objectionable Matter) Act 1951
In the course of debate in Parliament on the Constitution (First Amendment) Bill, the Government of India promised to introduce a press bill which was free from the objectionable features of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act of 1931 and which was in accordance with the new constitution of India. Such a bill was introduced in Parliament on 21 August, 1951 and was named as the Press (Incitement to crimes) Bill. However, its name was changed later on with a view to dis-associating this Bill was passed by the Parliament and received the assent of the President in October 1951.
According to the objects and reasons of the Act, the new law was directed against the encouragement of violence or sabotage of certain other very grave offences and the publication of scurrilous matter. No precensorship was imposed on any news paper unless it actually abused its freedom by the publication of some objectionable matter. Even in this case the demand of security or its forfeiture was not to be provided by the executive but by the session judge. The aggrieved owners of news papers and printing presses were allowed the right to demand trial by jury. The Act remained in force till 1956.
The All India Newspapers Editors conference and Indian Federation of Working journalists opposed the Act and urged the Government to institute a comprehensive enquiry into the working of the Indian Press. The Government yielded to the demand and in 1952 appointed the Press commission under the Presidency of Sir Justice G.S. Rajadhyaksha. The Commission which submitted its report in August 1954 recommended among other things the setting up of an All Indian Press Council, the system of price page schedule for newspapers, banning of crossword puzzle competitions, a strict code of advertisements by newspapers and drew the Government’s attention to the desirability of preventing the concentration in the ownership of Indian newspapers.

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