Evolution of Media Laws and its impact on Democracy

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Communication is the mechanism by which we share information by different techniques and media is the medium or tool for storing or transmitting the information. ‘Media’ tends to mean the popular term inter-alia used as ‘Press’ implies print & electronic information carriers – News Papers & Magazines, Radio, Television and nicely complements the Internet as new media. Lauded as the ‘Fourth Estate,’ the media is the public relations watchdog, educating society and vice versa, serving as the forum. To provide those at the forefront of public relations with the opinions of society at large.

The word medium comes from the expression medius in Latin (middle). The word communication is derived from the communicate of the Latin root. Media law runs the length of law that encompasses all forms of media (TV, film, music, publishing, advertisement, internet & digital media, etc.) and covers numerous legal areas, covering corporate, finance, intellectual property, advertising, and privacy, but not limited to them.

Evolution of the law –

Before the British East India Company began to rule a part of India after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, there were no press regulations. In 1766, William Bolts, a former employee of the British East India Company, tried to launch the first Indian newspaper but was relocated. Only the expulsion of the editor (printer) by Europeans was the ultimate punishment when newspapers in India were published. This power was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Judicature. Every immigrant was required to procure a license to live in the territory of the Corporation, and if either of the officials were displeased by writing or publishing something that was not satisfactory to them, the license was cancelled. It seems that the rising popularity of the Fourth Estate in England and the willingness of missionaries to start newspapers in India eventually led to the removal of pre-censorship by Lord Hastings in 1818 as Serampore missionaries began the first Samachar Darpan Indian language journal on 23 May 1818. It became bilingual in 1829, bringing news in parallel columns in Bengali and English.

Licensing was also, like censorship, a European institution to legislate the press. It was implemented by Adam’s guidelines in Bengal in 1823. The East India Company also provided orders that no company servant should be connected to a newspaper. This decision was the product of an incident in Bombay (now Mumbai), where a newspaper was held by a member of the Governor’s Council. Metcalfe’s rule, which was responsible for the entire territory of the East India Company, substituted the licensing regulations and mandated that the printer and publisher of each newspaper announce the location of the premises for its publication. Licensing was reinstated by Lord Canning in 1857, however, and was extended to all sorts of publications.

The enactment of the Press and Registration of Books Act was the next significant event in the area of media legislation (25 of 1867). This Act is still in place, with amendments from time to time, of course. The aim of this Act was to provide for the control of printing presses and newspapers, the protection of book copies, and the certification of books. The Vernacular Press Act 1878 was implemented when the Indian language press became really brazen. It was thorough and comprehensive, directed at the language press being “better control.” It allowed any district magistrate or police commissioner, in a presidential town, to call on a newspaper printer and publisher to enter into a bond agreement not to publish such kinds of content, to demand protection, and to forfeit certain presses and seize any printed matter as it considered objectionable if it was deemed necessary. No publisher or printer on whose such an action has been taken. They may have appealed to a court of law. It was intended to suppress Amrit Bazar Patrika in particular, which was bilingual until this Act. But by switching it into an English language paper instantly, the smart owner brought down this opportunity.

The opposition of the Government reached its zenith with the Swadeshi Movement and the partition of Bengal, both in the press and in the public. In June 1908, the government passed the Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act, which empowered local authorities to take legal action against the editor of any newspaper that indulges in writings trying to provoke rebellion. Nine prosecutions have been instituted under this Act and, as a result, seven presses have been seized. Then came the 1910 Press Act, which encouraged the government to claim protection from any newspaper, a provision similar to that in the Vernacular Press Act.

Before freedom, the Provisional Government appointed the Press Laws Enquiry Committee in March 1947 to investigate the laws of the press. The Committee submitted its report on 22 May 1948, after the independence and partition of India. Following the recommendation of that commission, the Act of 1931 was repealed by the Press (Objectionable Matter) Act 1951. However, the atmosphere was so much for freedom of the press that it was found unconstitutional in February 1956 and was scrapped in 1957. The Indian Constitution grants every person a constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression, and the courts have defined that as including freedom of the press.

The biggest obstacle to the freedom of the press in India came when emergency measures were enacted in June 1975 and censorship was enforced. However, after the loss of the then ruling party in 1977, General Elections, no one was able to follow suit. Liberal ethos strengthened after 1977 has had an influence on broadcasting. Although the proposal for an autonomous corporation to regulate All India Radio and Doordarshan was approved and finally Prasar Bharti, an autonomous corporation came into being on 15 September 1997 following the notification of the Prasar Bharti Act.

While the government has not yet allowed private radio news, freedom of print and television channels make India one of the most liberal countries in the world in terms of freedom of the media. The Access to Information Act 2005 has been enforced and the freedom of the media in India has been further extended.

Constitutional provisions –

There are several laws regulating media success in India. Laws relating to news media have been in effect from the very beginning. Many Press-related laws were enforced at the time of the British Raj. In the post-Independence era, several more media-related laws have been enforced by the different governments. The media is a very influential force on culture is governed and monitored by numerous legislations that have been enforced from time to time.

The Indian Constitution does not include freedom of the media separately. But there is an implicit clause for freedom of the media. It is taken from Article 19(1) (a). This Article protects freedom of speech and of expression. The freedom of mass media stems indirectly from this Article. Article 19 of our Constitution deals with the right to freedom of expression and lays forth certain protections pertaining to the freedom of speech and expression, and so on. These protections are essential and fundamental, which lie at the very core of democracy.

Article 19 of the Constitution of India provides –

All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably, and without arms, to form associations or unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India, to reside in any part of the territory of India, to acquire hold and dispose of property and to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

However, the right to freedom of speech and expression shall not impair the application of any established law or prohibit the State from applying any law to the degree that such law imposes appropriate limitations on the exercise of that right in the interests of the sovereignty and independence of India, the protection of the State, ties of goodwill with foreign states, public or moral status or in relation to the rule of law.[1]

Print –

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech should be seen as the basic foundations of a democratic system of government. Any business undertaking is involved in the laws of the government, the state, and the society in which it works. Newspaper publishers are more “hidden in” by bureaucratic restrictions than many other companies – provided that freedom of the press is protected by the Indian constitution. The different actions to be taken into account when dealing with the laws levied on the Print Media are as follows:

  • Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 – This Act governs printing presses and newspapers and obliges all printing presses to register with the specified authority.
  • The Press (Objectionable Matters) Act, 1951 – This Act allows for the printing and publishing of incitement to crime and other objectionable matters.
  • The Newspaper (Prices and Pages) Act, 1956 – This Law enabled the Government to control the price of newspapers in terms of the number of pages and size, and also to regulate the use of space for advertisement purposes.
  • Defense of India Act, 1962 – This Act came into effect during the time of emergency declared in 1962. The purpose of this Act was to limit the freedom of the press to a large degree, bearing in mind the instability existing in India instead of the war against China. The Act allowed the Central Government to lay down guidelines on the prohibition of publication or correspondence that would be prejudicial to civil defense/military activities, the avoidance of prejudicial reports, and the prohibition of printing or publishing in any media.
  • Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954 – Pursuant to this Act, publishers of books and newspapers are required to send, free of charge, a copy of each published book to the National Library in Calcutta and a copy to each of the three other public libraries stated by the Central Government.
  • The Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955 – It sets out basic requirements of service conditions for newspaper employees and journalists. 
  • Civil Protection Act, 1968 – It allows the Government to set down guidelines on the prohibition of printing and distributing any book, newspaper, or other publication that is prejudicial to the Civil Defence.
  • Press Council Act, 1978 – The Press Council was reconstituted (after 1976) to uphold and strengthen the quality of the Indian newspaper and news agencies.

While, on the one hand, the Constitution confers a constitutional right to freedom of the press, Article 105(2) allows for some limitations on the publishing of proceedings in Parliament.  

Broadcasting –

The broadcasting media was under the full monopoly of the Government of India. Private companies are interested only in promotional advertisement and service support. The Broadcasting Code, introduced by the Fourth Asian Broadcasting Conference in 1962 listing those cardinal rules to be observed by the buying of electronic media, is of primary significance as far as the laws regulating broadcast media are concerned.

Film –

India is one of the world’s major manufacturers of motion pictures. Comprising three main fields of operation – production, distribution, and exhibition – the industry has expanded across India, hiring thousands of people and entertaining millions every year. The numerous laws in effect controlling the creation and screening of films are: –

  • The Cinematograph Act, 1952 – The Cinematograph Act allows for the classification of cinematographed films for exhibits by means of the Cinematograph Act. Under the Act, the Board of Film Censors (now called the Central Board of Film Certification) with advisory councils at regional centers is allowed to review and approve each film, whether for unregulated exhibits or for exhibitions limited to adults.
  • The Copyright Act, 1957 – Pursuant to this Act, ‘copyright’ means the sole right to allow commercial use of the original literary, theatrical, cultural, musical, sound or film works, in compliance with the wishes of the copyright holders, according to the limitations imposed by the Act. While this Act extends to all branches of the media, it is unique to this particular genre in certain regions. The Act also makes it a recognized crime for anybody to sell, hire, transmit, display, possess, or access any illegal recordings and imposes serious punishments, including incarceration, fines, and confiscation of equipment used for such recording and exhibition purposes.
  • Cine Workers and Cinema Theatre Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1981 – This act offers a measure of protection for those working in the industry by enforcing such duties on film makers and theater owners with respect to the condition of operation of the former.
  • Cine Workers Welfare Cess Act, 1981 and the Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act 1981 – They aim to build means of financial assistance for cinema workers, seasonal and volatile, whose work frequently leaves them poor and powerless. Other than these, there are indeed a few local laws that influence the film medium.

Advertising –

Advertising correspondence is a blend of arts and information that are subject to ethical standards. In order to be consumer-oriented, ads would have to be honest and legal. This does not confuse the customer. When it happens, the prestige will be lost. The Indian Advertisement Ethics Council has been set up to implement the Code of Ethical Law.

Important Case Laws: –

  • Sakal Papers Ltd. v. Union of India – In this case, the Daily Newspapers (Price and Control) Order of 1960, which specified the minimum price and number of pages to be written by a newspaper, was challenged as unconstitutional. The State explained the statute as a fair limitation on a citizen’s commercial practice. The Supreme Court held that the order had dismissed the State’s claim. The Court ruled that the right to freedom of speech and expression could not be removed with a view to limiting the economic practices of individuals. Equality of speech can be limited only on the grounds set out in Article 19(2).
  • K. A. Abbas v. Union of India – For the first time, the complainant questioned the legitimacy of the censorship as infringing his constitutional freedom to speech and expression. The Supreme Court acknowledged, however, that the pre-censorship of films under the Cinematograph Act was justified pursuant to Article 19(2) on the basis that films must be viewed separately from other modes of art and communication because the motion picture was able to stir up feelings more intensely and, thus, the division of films into two categories ‘A’ (for adults only) and ‘U’ (for all) was abolished.
  • Bobby Art International v. Om Pal Singh Hoon – The Supreme Court echoed the above view and affirmed the order of the Appellate Tribunal (under the Cinematograph Act) which had complied with the Guidelines under the Cinematograph Act and issued an ‘A’ certificate to a film.

Impact on Democracy –

In India, however, the media have grown and evolved as a very strong and effective medium in all matters. In a democracy, the value and control of the media should never be denied; media policy, media material, etc., and media personalities have a direct or indirect impact on the audience. Mass media and democracy are still tied together. Media is a mirror of culture and how democratic a society should be portrayed in the media. Opinion leaders control public opinion on elected leaders and the political structure of every country. The media also has an influential role to play in strengthening democracy. The media and democracy have strong links. In the role of ‘monitoring,’ the media should encourage political transparency, openness, and democratic oversight of decision-makers in authority, and by exposing legislative violations, maladministration by public leaders, misconduct in the courts, and corporate scandals, the media serve as a mirror.

A healthy democracy is thus, first and foremost, a generally valid system that satisfies its people absolutely (quality in terms of result). Thus, in order to improve democracy, India must first protect its people. The media is also a medium for social transformation. The media was also responsible for supplying help, support, and assistance to the media. People in distress in circumstances like any other tragedy. In the event of an unfavorable contingency, the newspapers shall have support lines. If the channels of communication represent social and cultural pluralism within each culture in an equal and unbiased manner, various interests and voices shall be heard in public deliberation. This role is especially critical during political campaigns, as equal access to airwaves by opposition parties, politicians and associations are essential to a successful, open, and fair multi-party election.


[1] http://www.caaa.in/image/media_laws.pdf

Author: Jaya Singh, Amity University

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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