The press was fiercely involved in rallying the masses and newspapers acted as the life breath of nationalistic rebellion. Inevitably, the British government became increasingly apprehensive and several acts were passed to curb the freedom of press.
Major regulations enacted by the British rulers were:
The Press Act of 1799: It imposed war time press restrictions. Which included pre-censorship, it was followed by the Licensing Regulations of 1823 which made the starting of a press without license a penal offence.
The Vernacular Press Act, 1878: It came to be known as the Gagging Act as it discriminated between the English and the Vernacular Press. It was enacted to curb the highly critical nature of the vernacular press. It provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press. When a report was judged as seditious, the newspaper was warned, and if the warning was ignored, the press was liable to be seized and the printing machinery confiscated.
The Newspaper Act: In 1908, the Newspaper Act was enacted to curb extremist nationalistic tendencies and it empowered the government to confiscate press property which published objectionable material against the government.
The Indian Press Act of 1931: In the aftermath of the Salt Satyagraha the Indian Press Act of 1931 was enacted, which gave wide ranging powers to suppress any publication that undermined the government’s authority during the civil disobedience movement.
Defence of India Rules: Under the Defence of India Rules during the Second World War pre-censorship was imposed and amendments were made in the Press Emergency Act, the penalty of imprisonment was extended to five years. Further, the Official Secrets Act was also amended to provide a maximum penalty of death or transportation for the publication of information likely to be of use to the enemy.
Despite the multiple draconian laws, the Indian press remained impervious to the regulations and worked its way around to defend civil liberties and the freedom of press and emerged as the torch bearer of the national movement.