What Is Media?
The term media, which is the plural of medium, refers to the communication channels through which we disseminate news, music, movies, education, promotional messages and other data. It includes physical and online newspapers and magazines, television, radio, billboards, telephone, the Internet, fax and billboards. It describes the various ways through which we communicate in society. Because it refers to all means of communication, everything ranging from a telephone call to the evening news on television can be called media.
Why Do We Need Media Laws?
Media law is a collection of a variety of laws and ethical standards that influence the work of the media. Different forms of media are subject to different regulations.
The law relating to mass media does not constitute a single field of law but is rather comprised of a diverse set of laws and provisions that are scattered across the entire legal framework. The foundations of the principles of media law can be found in the constitutions of many countries, specific national legislation, as well as international conventions and acts dealing with this subject.
Media Laws In India –
Mass Media systems of the world vary from each other according to the economy, polity, religion and culture of different societies. In societies, which followed communism and totalitarianism, like the former USSR and China, there were limitations of what the media could say about the government. Almost everything that was said against the State was censored for fear of revolutions. On the other hand, in countries like USA, which have a Bourgeois Democracy, almost everything is allowed. Below are the laws prescribed by the Indian Government –
Gagging Act, 1857– This Act introduced mandatory licensing for owning or running a printing press. It 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 furor against the government, thereby weakening its authority.
Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867– It was a regulatory law which enabled Government to regulate printing presses and newspapers by a system of registration and to preserve copies of books and other matter printed in India. This Act is still in force.
Freedom of Press – However, the most significant day in the history of Media Regulations was the 26th of January 1950 – the day on which the Constitution was brought into force. The colonial experience of the Indians made them realise the crucial significance of the ‘Freedom of Press’. Such freedom was therefore incorporated in the Constitution; to empower the Press to disseminate knowledge to the masses and the Constituent Assembly thus, decided to safeguard this ‘Freedom of Press’ as a fundamental right.
The Indian Constitution does not expressly mention the liberty of the press, it is evident that the liberty of the press is included in the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a).  It is however pertinent to mention that, such freedom is not absolute but is qualified by certain clearly defined limitations under Article 19(2) in the interests of the public.
The Newspaper (Prices and Pages) Act, 1956– This statute empowers the Central Government 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.
When dealing with this statute, it will be worthwhile to mention about the case of Sakal Papers v/s Union of India . In this case, the Daily Newspapers (Price and Control) Order, 1960, which fixed a minimum price and number of pages, which a newspaper is entitled to publish, was challenged as unconstitutional. The State justified the law as a reasonable restriction on a business activity of a citizen. The Supreme Court struck down the Order rejecting the State’s argument. The Court opined that, the right of freedom of speech and expression couldn’t be taken away with the object of placing restrictions on the business activity of the citizens. Freedom of speech can be restricted only on the grounds mentioned in clause (2) of Article 19.
Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955– It lays down the minimum standards of service conditions for newspaper employees and journalists.
The Cinematograph Act of 1952 has been passed to make provisions for a certification of cinematographed films for exhibitions by means of Cinematograph. Under this Act, a Board of Film Censors (now renamed Central Board of Film Certification) with advisory panels at regional centres is empowered to examine every film and sanction it whether for unrestricted exhibition or for exhibition restricted to adults. The Board is also empowered to refuse to sanction a film for public exhibition.
Bombay Regulations Act, 1953– it provides a scheme licensing of cinema theatres and other places where motion pictures are exhibited.
Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954 – This Act has been enacted to control the advertisements of drugs in certain cases and to prohibit the advertisement for certain purposes of remedies alleged to possess magic qualities and to provide for matters connected therewith.
In Hamdard Dawakhana v. Union of India the Supreme Court was faced with the question as to whether the Drug and Magic Remedies Act, which put restrictions on the advertisements of drugs in certain cases and prohibited advertisements of drugs having magic qualities for curing diseases, was valid as it curbed the freedom of speech and expression of a person by imposing restrictions on advertisements. The Supreme Court held that, an advertisement is no doubt a form of speech and expression but every advertisement is not a matter dealing with the expression of ideas and hence advertisement of a commercial nature cannot fall within the concept of Article 19(1) (a).
Monopolies and Restrictive Trades Act, 1969–
Section 36 A of the Act deals with 5 major Unfair Trade Practices: –
- Any misleading, false, and wrong representation either in writing (i.e. in advertisements, warranty, guarantee etc.) or oral (at the time of sale) actual or intended, even if actual injury or loss is not caused to the consumer/buyer constitutes as unfair trade practices;
- Sales, where there is element of deception;
- All business promotion schemes announcing ‘free gifts’, ‘contests’, etc. where any element of deception is involved;
- Violation of laws existing for protection of consumers;
- Manipulating sales with a view to raising prices.
These are the major media laws of India which are traced back from the British Era to the present, depicting the difference between Indian and British Administration, and also showcasing the difference between the freedom of speech then versus the present.
Image Source: https://www.nea.gov.sg/media