James Augustus Hickey in 1780 started The Bengal Gazette or Calcutta General Advertiser, the first newspaper in India, which was seized in 1872 because of its outspoken criticism of the Government.
Later more newspapers/journals came up—The Bengal Journal, The Calcutta Chronicle, The Madras Courier, The Bombay Herald. The Company’s officers were worried that these newspapers might reach London and expose their misdeeds. Thus they saw the need for curbs on the press.
➢ Early Regulation
- Censorship of Press Act, 1799, Lord Wellesley enacted this, anticipating the French invasion of India. It imposed almost wartime press restrictions including pre-censorship.
- Licensing Regulations, 1823, The acting governor-general, John Adams, who had reactionary views, enacted these. According to these regulations, starting or using a press without a license was a penal offense. Rammohan Roy’s Mirat-ul-Akbar had to stop publication.
- Press Act of 1835 or Metcalfe Act, Metcalfe ( governor-general— 1835-36) repealed the obnoxious 1823 ordinance The new Press Act (1835) required a printer/publisher to give a precise account of premises of a publication
- Licensing Act, 1857, Due to the emergency caused by the 1857 revolt, this Act imposed licensing restrictions
- Registration Act, 1867, This replaced Metcalfe’s Act of 1835 and was of a regulatory, not restrictive, nature. As per the Act, (i) every book/ newspaper was required to print the name of the printer and the publisher and the place of the publication; and (ii) a copy was to be submitted to the local government within one month of the publication of a book.
➢ Struggle by Early Nationalists to Secure Press Freedom
- Right from the early nineteenth century, defense of civil liberties, including the freedom of the press, had been high on the nationalist agenda.
- As early as 1824, Raja Rammohan Roy had protested against a resolution restricting the freedom of the press.
- The early phase of the nationalist movement from around 1870 to 1918 focussed more on political propaganda and education, formation and propagation of nationalist ideology and arousing, training, mobilization, and consolidation of public opinion, than on mass agitation or active mobilization of masses through open meetings.
- For this purpose, the press proved a crucial tool in the hands of the nationalists. The Indian National Congress in its early days relied solely on the press to propagate its resolutions and proceedings.
- Many newspapers emerged during these years under distinguished and fearless journalists. These included The Hindu and Swadesamitran under G. Subramaniya Aiyar, The Bengalee under Surendranath Banerjea, Voice of India under Dadabhai Naoroji, Amrita Bazar Patrika under Sisir Kumar Ghosh and Motilal Ghosh, Indian Mirror under N.N. Sen, Kesari (in Marathi) and Mahratta (in English) under Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sudharak under Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and Hindustan and Advocate under G.P. Verma. Other main newspapers included Tribune and Akbar-i-am in Punjab, Gujarati, Indu Prakash, Dhyan Prakash and Kal in Bombay and Som Prakash, Banganivasi and Sadharani in Bengal.
- The national movement, from its very beginning, stood for the freedom of the press. The Indian newspapers became highly critical of Lord Lytton’s administration especially regarding its inhuman treatment of victims of the famine of 1876-77. The Government struck back with the Vernacular Press Act, 1878.
The Vernacular Press Act (VPA)
Designed to better control’ the vernacular press and effectively punish and repress seditious writing.
➢ The provisions of the Act included the following.
- The district magistrate was empowered to call upon the printer and publisher of any vernacular newspaper to enter into a bond with the government undertaking not to cause disaffection against the government or antipathy between persons of different religions, caste, race through published material; the printer and publisher could also be required to deposit security which could be forfeited if the regulation were contravened, and press equipment could be seized if the offense re-occurred.
- The magistrate's action was final and no appeal could be made in a court of law.
- A vernacular newspaper could get an exemption from the operation of the Act by submitting proofs to a government censor.
- The Act came to be nicknamed 'the gagging Act”. The worst features of this Act were—(i) discrimination between English and vernacular press, (ii) no right of appeal
- In 1883, Surendranath Banerjea became the first Indian journalist to be imprisoned.
➢ Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908
- Aimed against Extremist nationalist activity, the Act empowered the magistrates to confiscate press property that published objectionable material likely to cause incitement to murder/ acts of violence.
➢ Indian Press Act, 1910
- This Act revived the worst features of the VPA—local government was empowered to demand security at registration from the printer/publisher and forfeit/deregister if it was an offending newspaper, and the printer of a newspaper was required to submit two copies of each issue to local government free of charge.
➢ During and After the First World War
- 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 the Civil Disobedience Movement.
➢ During the Second World War
- Under the Defence of India Rules, pre-censorship was imposed and amendments made in the Press Emergency Act and Official Secrets Act.