The history of media law could be traced to the British rule in India. Most of the law framed during that time was
obviously to control the press as press was used as a powerful medium by the freedom fighters and also the print
media of those days voluntarily took part in the freedom struggle. One of the earliest regulations was Press
Regulations (1799) introduced by Lord Wellesley which imposed pre-censorship. In 1823, an ordinance
introducing licensing of the press was issued. This required a previous license from the Governor-General for all
matters being printed, other than those commercial in nature. The Press Act of 1835 neutralized the regulations
passed in 1799
In 1857, the government passed the Gagging Act, which among various other things, introduced compulsory
licensing for the owning or running of printing presses; empowered the government to prohibit the publication or
circulation of any newspaper, book or other printed material and banned the publication or dissemination of
statements or news stories which had a tendency to cause a furore against the government, thereby weakening its
In 1860, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was passed. Even though it was for all sorts of offences, the offences specific
to press like defamation and obscenity were also included in the IPC.
Governor General Lord Lytton promulgated the Vernacular Press Act of 1878. This Act was specifically directed
against the newspapers in Indian languages. The Act allowed the government to clamp down on the publication of writings, deemed seditious and to impose punitive sanctions on printers and publishers who failed to fall in line.
The Criminal Procedure Code, enacted in 1898—a code for the procedure in criminal matters—included certain
procedures related to press too. Its provisions authorized the government to search and forfeit publications considered to be offensive in
In 1908, Lord Minto promulgated the Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908 which authorized local
authorities to take action against the editor of any newspaper that published matter deemed to constitute an
incitement to murder or any other act of violence or an offence under the Explosive Substances Act.
While most of the media law enacted by the British is not being practised today, a few Acts like Press and
Registration of Books Act, 1867
(a law to regulate printing presses and newspapers through registration) and Official Secrets Act, 1923 are still in
After independence, when the Constitution of India came to force on 26th January 1950, constitutionally ‘freedom
of press’ was granted under the broad spectrum of ‘freedom of expression’ in Article 19 1(a). Since then media
law in India is mostly regulatory in nature rather than draconian, though there were attempts being made to curb or
restrict the freedom from time to time.
In 1951, the Press (Objectionable Matter) Act, 1951 was passed. A temporary Act whose objective was to ‘provide
against the printing and publication of incitement to crime and other objectionable matter’. It was repealed in
The Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956 was meant to regulate the price of newspapers in relation to the
number of pages and size and also to regulate the allocation of space to be allowed for advertising matter. It was