Growth and Transformation of the Press in India

Arora IAS Class Notes

First Newspaper and Government Response

  • 1780: James Augustus Hickey starts “The Bengal Gazette” (first Indian newspaper).
  • 1782: Newspaper seized for criticizing the government.
  • Other early newspapers: The Bengal Journal, The Calcutta Chronicle, The Madras Courier, The Bombay Herald.
  • British concern: Newspapers exposing British misdeeds in India.

Early Press Regulations

  • Censorship of Press Act, 1799 (Lord Wellesley):
    • Strict wartime press restrictions, including pre-censorship.
    • Relaxed under Lord Hastings due to his progressive views.
    • Pre-censorship abolished in 1818.
  • Licensing Regulations, 1823 (John Adams):
    • Required licenses for operating a press.
    • Targeted Indian language newspapers and Indian editors.
    • Forced Rammohan Roy’s “Mirat-ul-Akbar” to cease publication.

Shifting Policies

  • Press Act of 1835 (Metcalfe Act):
    • Repealed the 1823 restrictions, earning Metcalfe the title “liberator of the Indian press.”
    • Required registration and basic information about publications.
    • Led to rapid growth of newspapers.
  • Licensing Act, 1857:
  • Reimposed licensing restrictions due to the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny.
  • Gave government power to stop publications.


  • Registration Act, 1867:
  • Replaced Metcalfe Act with a regulatory framework.
  • Required printing publisher and location information.
  • Mandated submitting a copy of each publication to the government.


Early Nationalists Fight for Press Freedom

Press as a Nationalist Tool (1820s onwards)

  • Defense of Civil Liberties:Freedom of press a key concern since early 19th century.
  • Raja Rammohan Roy (1824):Protested against restrictions on press freedom.
  • Nationalist Propaganda and Education:Press crucial for:
    • Spreading nationalist ideology.
    • Arousing and mobilizing public opinion.
  • Indian National Congress:Relied on press to publicize resolutions and activities.

Nationalist Newspapers and Journalists

  • Established by Distinguished Figures:
    • The Hindu, Swadesamitran (G. Subramania Aiyar)
    • The Bengalee (Surendranath Banerjea)
    • Voice of India (Dadabhai Naoroji)
    • Amrita Bazar Patrika (Sisir Kumar Ghosh, Motilal Ghosh)
    • Indian Mirror (N.N. Sen)
    • Kesari (Marathi), Mahratta (English) (Bal Gangadhar Tilak)
    • Sudharak (Gopal Ganesh Agarkar)
    • Hindustan, Advocate (G.P. Verma)
    • Tribune, Akbhar-i-am (Punjab)
    • Gujarati, Indu Prakash, Dhyan Prakash, Kal (Bombay)
    • Som Prakash, Banganivasi, Sadharani (Bengal)
  • Beyond Profit-Making:Seen as national service with wide reach.
  • Stimulated Library Movement:Newspapers discussed in local libraries.
  • Political Education and Participation:Newspapers fostered debate and engagement.

Challenging the Government

  • Critical Scrutiny of Government Policies:Exposed issues and acted as opposition.
  • Subverting Legal Hurdles (e.g., Section 124A IPC):
    • Prefacing critiques with loyalty statements.
    • Quoting critical writings from other sources.

Early Nationalist Criticism:

  • Lord Lytton’s Administration (1876-77):Newspapers criticized his handling of the famine.
  • Government Response: Vernacular Press Act (1878):Aimed to restrict critical Indian language press.


Vernacular Press Act (1878)


  • Post-1857 Tensions:Increased distrust between British rulers and Indian subjects.
  • Critical Vernacular Press:Highlighted government’s failures (famine, spending).


  • Control critical Indian-language press (“vernacular press”).
  • Suppress “seditious writing.”

Key Provisions:

  • Magistrate’s Power:
  • Demand bond from printer/publisher to avoid disloyal content.
  • Require security deposit (forfeited for violations).
  • Seize press equipment for repeat offenses.
  • No Appeal:Magistrate’s decision final.
  • Censorship Option:Submit proofs for pre-approval (to avoid VPA).

Impact and Criticism:

  • Nicknamed “Gagging Act” for stifling press freedom.
  • Discriminated against vernacular press (English press exempt).
  • Targeted Newspapers:Som Prakash, Bharat Mihir, Dacca Prakash, Samachar.
  • Amrita Bazar Patrika switched to English to evade VPA.
  • Repealed in 1882 by Lord Ripon due to strong opposition.


Continued Repression of Nationalist Journalists

Early Imprisonment (1883):

  • Surendranath Banerjea: First Indian journalist jailed for criticizing a judge.


Bal Gangadhar Tilak: Champion of Press Freedom

  • Nationalist activities:
    • Ganapati and Shivaji festivals (1893, 1896 onwards).
    • Advocating for inclusion of lower classes in Congress.
    • Boycott of foreign cloth (1896).
    • No-tax campaign in Maharashtra (1896-97).
  • Imprisonment (1897):
    • Charged with inciting violence through an article and speech.
    • Became a national hero (“Lokmanya”) after imprisonment.


Legal Crackdown (1898 onwards):

  • Section 124A and 153A of IPC (1898):
    • Criminalized criticism of government and incitement of hatred.
    • Sparked nationwide protests.


Further Repressive Measures:

  • Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908:
    • Targeted “extremist” nationalists.
    • Empowered seizure of press for publishing material deemed inflammatory.
    • Tilak imprisoned in Mandalay (Burma) for sedition, triggering strikes and protests.
  • Indian Press Act, 1910:
    • Revived “gagging” features of Vernacular Press Act.
    • Required security deposits and free copies for government.
    • Led to prosecution of nearly 1,000 newspapers and confiscation of over Rs. 5 lakh in securities within first five years (according to Reba Chaudhuri).
    • Over 500 publications banned.


Press Restrictions During Wars

World War I (1914-1918):

  • Defence of India Rules:
  • Suppressed political dissent and criticism.

Post-WWI (1921):

  • Press Acts of 1908 & 1910 Repealed:Brief period of relaxed press restrictions.

World War II (1939-1945):

  • Defence of India Rules:Reimposed pre-censorship.
  • Press Emergency Act & Official Secrets Act Amended:Further tightened control over press.
  • Restriction on Congress News Coverage:All news related to Congress activities banned at one point.





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