India, with a population of more than a billion, is a multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious, pluralistic society. Politically it is a union of states (28 states and 7 union territories) and a sovereign, secular, democratic republic with a bicameral, multi-party, parliamentary system of government based on a universal adult franchise. It is governed by a written constitution, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949, which came into force on January 26, 1950.
India is an ancient civilization. There is evidence of human activity in India at least from 20,000 BCE (Bhimbetka Rock paintings); of farming from 7000 BCE; and of city life from 2700 BCE (Harappa). Alexander the Great was in India 326 –325 BCE. South Indian empires began in 200 CE, with the Gupta Empire 320 – 467, the Harshvardhan 606 – 647, and the Mughal 1526 –1757, followed after the battle of Plassey by East India Company rule 1757–1858. India was under the British crown 1858 –1947; independence and partition into India and Pakistan came in 1947. In terms of public writings, India had the Rock Edicts of Emperor Asoka (c.273 –236 BCE), writings on leaves and barks mentioned by Uzbek scholar Al-Biruni (973 –1049 CE) in his book Kitabu’l Hind (1030 CE), and newsletters (“akhbar”) mentioned by Emperor Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur in 1527, before the modern printing press landed in India on September 6, 1556.
When James Augustus Hicky started his Bengal Gazette or Calcutta General Advertiser on January 29, 1780, there was no law or regulation governing the press in India. When Hicky criticized Warren Hastings, the governor-general, the first known order against the press was issued in India from Fort William, Calcutta, on November 14, 1780, which stopped circulation of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette “through the channel of the General Post Office.”
Pre-censorship was first introduced in Madras (now Chennai) in 1795. When newspaper publishing was confined to Europeans, deportation was often the ultimate punishment. Licensing was introduced in Bengal in 1823 but was replaced by the Metcalfe Act of 1835, which applied to the entire territory of the East India Company and required that the printer and publisher of every newspaper declare the location of the premises of its publication. Licensing was, however, reintroduced in 1857 by Lord Canning and was applied to all kinds of publications. This was the year when Indians fought their war of independence against the East India Company, after which the British crown took over the territories of the Company.
In 1860 the Indian Penal Code passed into law. Among more general matters, this laid down offenses that any writer, editor, or publisher must avoid – those of defamation and obscenity. The Code was amended in 1870 to introduce the offense of sedition, giving convenient grounds for sending many freedom fighters to jail for their writings in newspapers, including political heavyweights like Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The Press and Registration of Books Act passed in 1867, a regulatory measure, still survives after some amendments. The Official Secrets Act of 1923 is another old law still surviving, though now diluted by the Right to Information Act of 2005. During the British period there were many repressive laws directed specially at the press from time to time, like the Vernacular Press Act of 1878, the Newspaper (Incitement of Offences) Act of 1908, and the Indian Press Act of 1910. In 1922, these Acts of 1908 and 1910 were repealed, but the provisions of seizure and confiscation of seditious publications were incorporated into the Sea Customs Act and the Post Office Act. Civil disobedience in 1931 provoked the government to issue an ordinance to control the press, which was replaced by the Press Emergency Powers Act of 1931. Originally a temporary law, it was made permanent in 1935.
The British passed the Indian Telegraph Act in 1885 and took all the powers necessary to operate and control Indian telegraphy. The government had exclusive privileges under this Act in respect of telegraphy, among them the power to grant licenses. The definition of telegraphy in this Act is very wide, as it later covered all other means of communication depending on electromagnetic waves, thus including telephone, fax, radio, and television.
Radio came to India in 1921 and was initially in private hands. It was mainly enjoyed by the European community as a means of entertainment. First there were Radio Clubs and then the Indian Broadcasting Company, which went into liquidation in 1930. There was public pressure to which the government bowed by starting the Indian State Broadcasting Service, which was rechristened All India Radio (AIR) in 1935. Meanwhile, the princely states of Baroda, Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Mysore, and Travancore set up their own radio stations with authorization from the government of India. Before the creation of Pakistan, pre-partition India in 1947 had nine radio stations and a dozen transmitters, with 275,955 radio sets for a population of over 300 million. Radio broadcasts covered less than 10 percent of the area with medium wave. After partition, AIR had a network of six stations and a complement of 18 transmitters. The coverage was 2.5 percent of the area and just 11 percent of the population. Television came to India in September 1959 as an educational experiment involving UNESCO.
Normative And Legal Framework
Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India provides that all citizens shall have the right “to freedom of speech and expression,” and the courts have interpreted this as including freedom of the press. The Press Law Enquiry Committee was appointed to examine the existing laws at the time of independence in relation to fundamental rights. After the report of this committee the Press Emergency Powers Act of 1931 was replaced by the Press (Objectionable Matter) Act of 1951. However, the mood was so much in support of freedom of the press that this Act was allowed to lapse in February 1956 and repealed in 1957. There is a statutory Press Council of India, which is toothless against newspapers but has been used by the press against the government in cases of discrimination in advertising etc. With the exception of the Internal Emergency of June 26, 1975, to March 21, 1977, there has been no censorship.
Broadcasting remained a government monopoly after independence until September 15, 1997, when Prasar Bharti, an autonomous corporation, came into existence to run AIR and national television (Doordarshan). Satellite television, which entered Indian skies in 1991, was left unregulated. The Supreme Court, in the Cricket Association of Bengal case in 1995, declared that the “airwaves are public property.” The issue of broadcast regulation has emerged since then. The Broadcasting Bill of 1997 and the Communication Convergence Bill of 2001 were introduced in Parliament but did not become law. Meanwhile, in 1995 the Cable Television Networks Act was brought in to regulate the cable business and its operations, and guidelines were issued for uplinking TV channels, direct-to-home (DTH), FM radio, community radio, etc. Drawing lessons from the experiences of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US and OFCOM in the UK, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has put up a draft of the proposed Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill on its website.
The Indian press, serving a multilingual, diverse society, is independent and competitive, with various forms of ownership ranging from individuals, firms, and joint-stock companies to trusts. Distribution is dominated by hawkers and agents delivering press products to homes, though it also includes newsstands, street sales, and postal subscriptions. In 1950 there were 214 daily newspapers, with 44 in English and the rest in Indian languages. The number of dailies has since increased to 1,834, with 799 in Hindi and 181 in English. On March 31, 2005, there were 60,413 registered newspapers and periodicals on the record of the Registrar of Newspapers for India. The Gujarati daily Mumbai Samachar (also called Bombay Samachar), which started in 1822 as a weekly and became daily in 1855, is the oldest surviving newspaper. The Bombay Times, which started in 1838, became the Times of India in 1861. Other nineteenth-century papers surviving today include the Pioneer (1864), the Statesman (1875), the Hindu (1878), the Tribune (1881), and Malayala Manorama (1890). Many newspapers have a web presence and regional or even district editions, and some offer a franchise.
The National Readership Study (NRS) of 2006 (NRSC 2006) noted that over the preceding three years the number of readers of dailies and magazines put together among those aged 12 years and above had grown from 216 million to 222 million. Two Hindi dailies had more than 20 million readers each: Dainik Jagran (21.2 million) and Dainik Bhaskar (21 million). The Times of India was the most read English daily, with 7.4 million readers, but the Hindu had taken the second spot with 4.05 million readers, pushing the Hindustan Times into the third spot with an estimated readership of 3.85 million. While no single newspaper accounted for even 2 percent of all-India copy sales, there was dominance in specific sub-markets.
Though under discussion, there is no cross-media ownership restriction yet, and foreign investment has been allowed to differing degrees according to the nature of the media product. For example, Bennett and Coleman owns the Times of India, the Economic Times (a financial daily), Radio Mirchi (an FM radio network), Planet M (a chain of music stores), Zoom (a lifestyle television channel), Times Now (a television news channel with Reuters), and Internet portal Indiatimes. Its magazines Femina and Filmfare are now published in association with the BBC.
Radio And Television
AIR, the public radio network run by Prasar Bharti Corporation, has 233 broadcasting centers, with 143 medium frequency (MW), 54 high frequency (SW), and 161 FM transmitters covering 91.42 percent of the area and 99.13 percent of the population of the country. AIR uses 24 languages and 146 dialects in home services. In external services, it broadcasts in 17 Indian and 10 foreign languages.
AIR remained a monopoly until May 2000, when the government opened the sector for participation by private FM broadcasters and offered 108 frequencies in 40 cities for open bidding. Of these, 21 private FM stations are now on the air in 12 cities. In 2005, another 336 channels in 90 cities were offered for bidding to private companies. Community radio stations have been allowed, to be run by educational institutions. Private and community stations cannot broadcast news as yet.
Doordarshan, the public TV network run by Prasar Bharti, has a monopoly of terrestrial broadcasting, with 64 studio centers and 1,400 transmitters, and operates 24 channels: four national channels (DD-1, DD-News, DD-Sports, and DD-Bharati), eleven regional language satellite channels, eight state networks, and one international channel. The flagship DD1 channel reaches some 400 million viewers. There are over 250 private and foreign channels available in India. The National Readership Studies Council (NRSC 2006) puts the number of homes in India with TV at 112 million, those with cable and satellite (C&S) at 68 million, and satellite TV viewers at 230 million.
Indian media companies are also expanding in foreign markets. For example, Zee claims to serve more than 300 million viewers in more than 120 countries across the globe in seven different languages. Direct-to-home (DTH) was cleared by the government in 2000 and currently there three players: Doordarshan’s DD Direct +, Dish TV from Zee network, and Tata Sky, an 80:20 joint venture between TATA and STAR.
Despite being a software superpower, India is still on the wrong side of the digital divide. Important traditional media outlets have an Internet presence, but the growth of new media is limited by access. According to NRS 2006 data (NRSC 2006), 13 million persons have access to the Internet and of these only 1.8 million reside in rural India. The number of Internet users in urban India grew by 35 percent over the preceding year, while in rural India it stagnated. However, the office was no longer the main place of access, as 34 percent of users surfed from cyber-cafés and 30 percent from home. Mobile phone companies have also introduced the Internet, and broadband connectivity is expanding.
E-governance initiatives are in full swing, but there is a long way to go before Indian print media enjoy a level of freedom comparable to that in any liberal democracy. Though there are large numbers of private TV news channels that are aggressively independent, like the newspapers, private and community radio stations are not allowed to broadcast news yet. Terrestrial television is under a public corporation still, though the decks are being cleared to allow private players as well. In DTH, public and private are competing and cooperating. There are still limits to foreign investment in news channels and newspapers. Thus, in the typology developed by Hallin and Mancini (2004), the Indian media system is close to a “liberal model,” as there is a relative dominance of market mechanisms and of commercial media.
- Government of India (1954). Report of the Press Commission. New Delhi: Government of India.
- Government of India (1982). Report of the Press Commission. New Delhi: Government of India.
- Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems. Three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- NRSC (National Readership Studies Council) (2006). National Readership Study 2006. Mumbai: NRSC.
- Registrar of Newspapers for India (1952 –2005). Press in India, annual reports. New Delhi: Registrar of Newspapers for India.
- Shrivastava, K. M. (2005). Broadcast journalism in the 21st century. New Delhi: New Dawn.