India has a Press Council which is the longest established and the most viable in terms of funding and continuity in the region. A statutory body overseeing the functioning of the press was proposed by the Press Commission, which submitted its report in 1955 and was the newly independent country’s first effort at legislating on the relationship between the media and society. The Press Council was set up by statute in 1978.
Larger press organisations actively opposed the formation of such a body while journalists’ unions and the small and medium newspaper segment were broadly supportive. The PCI is funded in part through a levy on newspapers proportionate to circulation. It has no statutory powers but there was a strong norm that its findings and rulings would be given appropriate space in newspapers. Most of the funding of the PCI comes from the government and its chairman is by convention, a retired judge of India’s Supreme Court.
With the broadcast and electronic media growing rapidly through the 1990s, there has been much public debate over appropriate forms of regulation. The Union Government, which determines broadcasting policy for the entire country has brought up the issue of a “content code” for the broadcast sector at various junctures, but the industry has insisted that self-regulation is the better procedure. In August 2008, a conglomerate of the country’s main news channels – the News Broadcasters’ Association of India – came up with a code of practice which they said would guide their behaviour. A grievance redressal body was set up by the NBAI with a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as chair. The first ruling handed out by the grievances board though was disregarded by the channel named.
Following a serious public backlash against media coverage of the terrorist attacks in the commercial metropolis of Mumbai in November 2008, the NBAI reframed its code of practice to take into account designated situations of “emergency”.
Under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, all citizens have the right to free speech and the right to commerce. The text of the article reads:
"(1) All citizens shall have the right—
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) to form associations or unions;
(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;
(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India;
(g) to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business
(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence."
By the first amendment to the Indian Constitution, enacted in 1950, certain exceptions were introduced into the free speech right.
- Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act
Sections 499 and 500 deal with the offence of defamation.
- Key Ruling by the Supreme Court:
- Express Newspapers and Another versus Union of India and Another, 1958: on the Constitutional validity of the Indian Working Journalists’ Act and the scope of the free speech right
- Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd versus Union of India, 1972: on the scope and the intended beneficiaries of the free speech right
- Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting versus Cricket Association of Bengal, 1995: on the “airwaves” as a public resource.
All judgments are available in text format by searching the Supreme Court website using the appropriate search terms.
- Press Council of India
- All India Newspaper Editors’ Conference: Since 1940, it is a voluntary organization of the editors of Indian Newspapers and periodicals. The purpose is to preserve the high journalistic standards and traditions and to safeguard freedom of the Press.
Code of Ethics
- The Press Council of India has laid down a code of practice for newspapers
- The All India Newspaper Editors Conference code of conduct
- News Broadcasters Association of India code of practice
- All Manipur Working Journalists Union (currently only hard copy available)