3 May of every year is observed as World Press Freedom Day. This post highlights a less known aspect of the legislative history around press freedom in India.
In 1956 the Lok Sabha passed the Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Act that protected the media or any persons from prosecution for printing, broadcasting or publishing true reports of the proceedings of either House of Parliament.
The brainchild of this Act was Feroze Gandhi – a freedom fighter, Congress party leader and Constituent Assembly member. On 23 March 1956 he introduced the Proceedings of Legislatures (Protection of Publication) Bill to protect the freedom of press - specifically its right to report parliamentary proceedings. He argued that the citizens of the country had a right to know what their chosen representative said or did in Parliament. He believed that:
“For the success of our parliamentary form of government and democracy and so that the will of the people shall prevail, it is necessary that our people should know what transpires in this House. This is not your House or my House, it is the House of the people. It is on their behalf that we speak or function in this chamber. These people have a right to know what their chosen representatives say and do. Anything that stands in the way must be removed.”
Gandhi was disappointed that the press had not mentioned names of people complicit in an insurance scam that was discussed in the Rajya Sabha. He challenged the press to print the names but also began to work towards ensuring that the press had protection against any legal obstacles that would hinder them in doing so.
He was successful in getting Parliament to enact his Bill that gave that the press statutory protection for publishing the proceeding of the parliament in newspapers or broadcasting them. The Proceedings of Legislature (Protection of Publication) Bill is one of the 14 private member bills that has been passed by the Lok Sabha till date.
Interestingly, the Act had been repealed during the Indira Gandhi government-imposed emergency by the Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Repeal Act, 1976. It was later reinstated in 1977.
The provisions of the 1977 Act were added to the Constitution of India, 1950 by the Constitution (Forty fourth Amendment) Act, 1978 which inserted Article 361A. Through this provision, the press was finally given constitutional protection from civil and criminal liability for publishing or broadcasting Parliamentary proceedings.