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Print and Censorship

The Colonial state under the East India Company was not too concerned with censorship. Initially it controlled printed matter that was written by Englishmen in India who were critical of Company’s misrule and hated the actions of some Company officers. The Company was worried that such criticisms might be used by its critics in England to attack its trade monopoly in India.

In the 1820s, the Calcutta Supreme Court passed certain regulations to control press freedom and the Company encouraged publication of newspapers that supported British rule.

In 1835, Governor-General Bentinck revised the Press laws. Thomas Macaulay, a liberal colonial official, formulated new rules that restored the earlier freedom.

Lord William Bentinck                      Thomas Macaulay

After the revolt of 1857, the attitude to freedom of the press changed. Enraged Englishmen demanded a clamp down on the ‘native’ press. In 1878, the Vernacular Press Act was passed, as vernacular newspapers became assertively nationalist.

The Vernacular Press Act provided the government with extensive rights to censor reports and editorials in the vernacular press. When a report was judged as rebellious, the newspaper was warned, and if the warning was ignored, the press was liable to be seized and the printing machinery confiscated.

In spite of these repressive measures, nationalist newspapers grew in numbers in all parts of India. These papers reported on colonial misrule and encouraged nationalist activities.

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