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Press Liberty Under Scrutiny: Analyzing the Constitutional Dimensions of Freedom of Press in India

Freedom of the press is protected under Indian Constitution, under Article 19(1)(a) which talks about Freedom of speech and expression. The press is considered as one of the essential features of Freedom of speech and expression, and freedom for press is a necessary condition for the functioning of Democracy. However, this freedom of press has evolved from years to years.

India has a diverse media landscape, with a large number of newspapers, journals, magazine, television channels and online news portals. The media is free to report on various topics like politics, social issues, and economic development. However, there are certain instance of censorship and restrictions on media in India, particularly during the times of emergency or political unrest. In the Pre-independence Era, there are also certain restriction of Press and media houses in India. The government in India has power to regulate the media through various law, such as Press and Registration of Books Act, which requires newspapers to register

with the government. The government can also use other laws, such as the Official Secrets Act and sedition law, to restrict the media's freedom in certain situations.

In the recent times, there has been concern about the increasing influence of the government on the media, particularly through the use of advertising and other form of financial incentives. There is also concern related to the safety of journalist, with several cases of violence reported against the journalists in different parts of the country. Despite all these challenges, the media in India continues to play an important role in shaping public opinion and holding those in power accountable. The freedom of the press remains a cornerstone of India's democracy, and efforts are being made to protect and strengthen this freedom.

Press and Media in early 19th Century
The history of Media and Press be traced long back from the East India Company reign in the year 1799, when Lord Wellesley promulgated The Press Regulations1, which the beginning of pre-censorship on the newly evolved newspaper printing industry. However, that pre censorship was been dispensed by Lord Hastings in 1818. In 1823, licensing regulations were publicized to which using or starting press without licensing was a penal offense.

In 1835 "The Press act also referred as Metcalfe Act" was introduced, this act requiresthe publisher or printer to give clear and to the point explanation of each and every publication.

In 1857, the government passed "The Gagging act 2", which empowers the government to prohibit the circulation of any newspaper, books, journals, or other printed material, which in any ways threatened or weakened the governments authority. Licensing3 was reinstated by Lord Canning in 1857. In 1860 Indian Penal Code (IPC) was introduced as general law which laid down offences of defamation and obscenity.

The year of 1867 was significant for media legislation as "The Press and Registration of Books act" was introduced, which replaced the Press act/Metcalfe's act. The act was to provide controlling of printing press and newspaper in India and Certification and protection of book copies.

The act also mentioned that every book/newspaper was required to have the name of publisher and printer and the place of the publication and a copy of the publication need to be submitted to the local government authority within one month of publication for review.

In 1878, "The Vernacular Press Act" was introduced which gives more power to government to put down the publications which are seditious and imposed punitive sanctions on publishers and printers. In 1898 government has enacted many stringent laws, such as Section 124A of Indian Penal Code which say that anyone trying to cause disaffection against the British government shall be punished.

In 1898, government amended Section 124A and added another Section 153A which made contempt of the Government of India and to create hatred among different classes as a criminal offence. In 1908, The Newspaper (Incitement to offences) Act was enacted, which empowered magistrates to confiscate press property which objectionable material likely to incitement to acts of violence.

In 1910, The Indian Press Act has introduced which has some features of Vernacular Press Act, the act demands for the demand of security at registration from the publisher/printer and forfeit if it was found offending newspaper. The printer/publisher also require to submit two copies of each issue to local government for review

 In 1911, The Defence of India Act, was introduced to impose restriction on press, act was also used for was as well as political purposes so as to carry out the policy of the Indian government in regard to repression of political agitation or free public criticism of its normal acts and methods of administration in India4.

In March 1930, Gandhiji started Salt Satyagraha due to which the established peace between press and government for nine years was snapped. The Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931 gave powers to governments to suppress the propaganda of Civil disobedience Movement. In 1939, The Government of India under The Defence of India Act made amendments to The Press Emergency Act and The Official Secrets Act. After amendment in Secrets act it provide penalty of death or transportation for the publication of secret information, which is likely to use by the enemies.

After the adoption of the Constitution in January 1950 certain action was taken against the certain newspaper, which successfully appealed to High court and Supreme court that overruled the action of executive on ground that they were ultra vires of Article 29(2) of The Indian Constitution. However, the constitution of India does not provide any specific Article which is dedicate to the Freedom of press and media. Under Article 19(1)(a) which talks about Freedom of Speech and Expression, is the one also ensures the Freedom of Mass Media and Press.

Development made in Press and Media Post-Independence:
India is a country with a vibrant media landscape, but freedom of the press has been a subject of concern in years. There have been several significant developments in this regard. The Indian Constitution, adopted in 1950, guarantees freedom of speech and expression, including freedom of the press.

In the early years after independence, the Indian press was marked by a strong sense of idealism and a commitment to democratic values. The press was instrumental in advocating for the rights of marginalized communities, such as Dalits (formerly known as "untouchables") and women. The press also played a crucial role in shaping public opinion on key issues, such as land reform, education, and healthcare. However, in the 1970s, India underwent a period of authoritarian rule under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the press faced significant challenges.

The government imposed censorship on the media, and journalists were subject to intimidation and violence. The press fought back, with many journalists facing imprisonment and harassment, but ultimately, the government's efforts to control the media were largely unsuccessful.

In the decades since, India's press has continued to thrive, with hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and television channels operating in the country. The Indian media has been at the forefront of reporting on critical issues such as corruption, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation. The press has also played a critical role in exposing the failures of the government's policies and programs, and holding politicians and officials accountable for their actions. This has been a significant step in protecting the freedom of the press in India.

In 1966, the Press Council of India was established as a statutory body to promote and maintain the standards of the press, to ensure the freedom of the press and to protect the rights of journalists. Over the years, Indian courts have delivered several landmark judgments related to freedom of the press, including the 1975 case of Indian Express Newspapers v. Union of India 5, which affirmed the freedom of the press as a part of the right to freedom of speech and expression. India has a diverse media landscape, with a range of newspapers, magazines, television channels, and online news platforms, catering to different languages and regions.

This has allowed for a plurality of voices and perspectives in the media. Despite the protections provided by the Constitution and the Press Council of India, there have been challenges and controversies related to the freedom of the press in India. These have included instances of censorship, attacks on journalists, and restrictions on reporting in conflict zones.

Overall, the developments in freedom of the press in India since Independence have been mixed, with some significant progress and challenges. However, the vibrant and diverse media landscape in India continues to play a critical role in upholding democratic values and holding those in power accountable.

Currently according to the 2022 stats, India ranked 150 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, released by Reporters Without Borders.

This was a drop from the 140th position it held in 20196.

Freedom of Press and Media has played a crucial role in India's political and social development since the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947. The Indian press has been instrumental in advocating for the rights of marginalized communities, exposing corruption, and holding the government accountable for its actions.

However, the Indian press has also faced significant challenges over the years, including censorship, government pressure, threats of violence from extremist groups, and economic pressures. Despite these challenges, the Indian media has remained resilient, and the commitment of journalists and civil society groups to press freedom has remained strong.

Today, India's press remains a vital component of the country's democracy, providing a platform for diverse voices and opinions, and shaping public opinion on critical issues. As India continues to undergo rapid social and economic changes, the role of a free press in promoting democratic values and ensuring government accountability is likely to become even more critical in the years to come.

  1. Censorship of Press Act, 1799 enacted anticipating French invasion of India.
  2. Also known as the Licensing Act, 1857. This was the common name given for two acts of Parliament passed in 1817, also known as the Grenville and Pitt Bills. The specific Acts themselves were the Treason Act 1817 and the Seditious Meetings Act 1817.
  3. Licensing Act, 1857 � this Act imposed licensing restriction & the right to stop publication & circulation of book, newspaper or printed matter reserved with the government.
  4. Chaudburi Reba, "The Story of Indian Press", The Economic Weekly, Published 1955
  5. 1985) 2 SCR 287
  6. Published on- May 05, 2022, The Hindu
  • Article- Press Freedom in India: A Legal Study, Published by- Rahesha Sehgal and Udit Malik
  • Journal- Freedom of the Press, Published by- Saumya Krishnakumar 
  • Article- A study on Freedom of Press in India: With reference to Article 19, Published by B. Mugundhan and C. Renuga

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