Indian journalism on modern lines began in 1780 at Calcutta with the publication of Bengal Gazette by J. A. Hickey in English. This was followed by a number of periodicals in English, the most prominent of them being John Bull in the East (later known as Englishman) started in 1821.
All these periodicals were run by Englishmen, in English, for the benefit of the English people of India.
Vernacular journalism, that is, periodicals published in native Indian languages by Indians, was slow on the uptake. Nevertheless, a number of periodicals-most of them short lived-appeared in India in the latter half of the 19th century. The oldest surviving vernacular newspaper is Bombay Samachar in Gujarati language established in Bombay in 1822.
Most of the vernacular journals owed their origin to the national consciousness awakened by the revolution of 1857 against the British rule in India. Naturally, their tone and temper displeased the British administration. The result was the Vernacular Press Act 1878 which strictly controlled Indian papers
With the growth of the national movement, drastic press legislations followed one another, such as Newspaper’s Incitement to Indian States Act 1922, Official Secrets Act, 1923, Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931, Foreign Regulation Act, 1932, Indian States (Protection) Act, 1934, etc.
During the Second World War, when the British administration wanted the cooperation of the Indian people, a gentleman’s agreement was concluded between the Government and the Press, which resulted in the Press Advisory Committee at the Centre and in most of the states. This gave the press a consultative status.
When India became free, there was no longer any antagonism between the Government and the people and the Press was free to play an entirely new role In March 1947, the Government appointed a Press Laws Enquiry Committee, as a result of which the obnoxious provisions of the Press Acts until then in force were removed and a policy of consultative cooperation between the Government and the Press was inaugurated.
During the British rule, restrictions were placed on the Press under the Defence of India Rules. The Defence of India Rules were not only used for war purposes but for all political purposes so as to carry out the policy of the government in regard to repression of political agitation or free public criticism of the Government and the administration. Under the Defence of India Rules the British Government resorted to the simple formula of acting in the interests of the so-called public safety.
In this manner the officials were able to deal with anything which they considered prejudicial to the administration. They issued directions to the press and imposed penal orders of every conceivable character. Such orders were numerous, varied, arbitrary and, very often, ludicrous to a degree.
Tej Bahadur Sapru, as Law Member of the Executive Council, constituted, in March 1921 during the Mahatma Gandhi’s non- cooperation movement, a committee to consider the question of the repeal of the Press Act of 1910. As a result of the recommendations of this Committee, the Newspaper Act of 1908 and the Indian Press Act of 1901 were repealed while the Press Act of 1910 was amended.
Press (Emergency) Powers Act 1931:
This Act which had a link with the Defence of India Rules remained in force until 1939 when the Government of India armed itself with further powers in respect of pre-censorship of material published in the press relating to certain matters. The Official Secrets Act was amended to provide the maximum penalty of death or transportation for life for the publication of information likely to be of use to the enemy.
When Mahatma Gandhi launched his individual satyagraha movement after the break of Second World War, the Government issued a notification under Rule 41 of the Defence of India Rules prohibiting the printing by any printer, publisher or editor in British India of any matter relating to the holding of meetings or the making of speeches for the purpose, directly or indirectly, or fomenting the opposition to the Government.
The above notification was withdrawn after a few months as a result of an understanding reached between the Government and a conference of newspaper editors later constituted into the All India Newspaper Editors’ Conference. The Press Advisory system introduced by the Government elicited consultations with the committee of editors nominated by the Government on the recommendations of AINEC at the Centre and in the State capitals.
This system worked in a haphazard manner until the Quit India Resolution was moved by the Congress in August 1942 which made the Government Issue a fresh notification. The notification suppressed all news relating to Congress activities. Gandhiji called upon newspapers to stop publication instead of working under such a restriction and becoming a party to dissemination of false news. The notification was withdrawn after an assurance by the AINEC that the newspapers would observe certain voluntary restraints.
The agreement, however, did not work as many nationalist newspapers refused to associate themselves with AINEC’s stand. Many newspapers suspended publication in protest following the call by Mahatma Gandhi. However, a few unauthorised cyclostyled, newspapers continued to be published to help the Quit India Movement.
This situation developed as many printers refused to print anti-government materials published by the editors, although some patriotic ones faced the risk of confiscation of their press, type and machinery. Gandhi called upon the printers and publishers not to deposit securities but allow the presses to be confiscated.
The Interim Government and After:
With the installation of the Interim Government in early 1947, the arbitrary powers exercised by the Government came to an end, but the partition imposed a new emergency and many of the provincial government’s promulgated ordinances, later replaced by emergency legislation, to bring the situation under control. In March 1947, the Government appointed the Press Laws Enquiry Committee to examine the press laws in India in the light of the fundamental rights formulated by the Constituent Assembly. The committee made the following recommendations:
(i) Some minor amendments in the Press and Registration of Books Act.
(ii) Repeal of the Indian States (Protection against Disaffection) Act, 1922.
(iii) Repeal of the Indian States (Protection) Act, 1934.
(iv) Repeal of the Indian Press (Emergency Powers) Act, 1931.
(v) Incorporation of some of the provisions of the Indian Press Act, 1931 in the ordinary law of the land.
(vi) Repeal of the Foreign Relations Act and the enactment in its place of a more comprehensive measure on the basis of reciprocity.
(vii) Modification of Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code.
(viii) Exclusion by explanation of the application of Section 153(A) of the advocacy of peaceful change in socio-economic order;
(ix) Exclusion of Section 144 of the C.P.C. from application to the press;
(x) Amendment of the Telegraph Act and the Post Office Act to provide for review by responsible ministers of Government of the actions and orders to subordinate officers.
The committee also recommended that all actions taken against the press in exercise of the emergency powers should be preceded by consultations between the provincial governments and the Press Advisory Committee or any similar body.