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Evolution Of Broadcasting Laws In India

Broadcasting is not an old occurrence but a new one. The first radio waves were transmitted in December 1906 from Brant Rock[1], Massachusetts and in case of India it actually began 13 years before All India radio came into existence. In June 1923 the Radio club of Bombay made the first ever broadcast in the country and that was followed by the setting up of the Calcutta Radio Club five months later[2].

Meaning of the word broadcasting according to Black's Law Dictionary is "The distribution of audio and video content to a dispersed audience via broadcast radio, broadcast television, or other technologies. [vague] Receiving parties may include the general public or a relatively large subset of thereof[3].

Since broadcasting is a very powerful tool for mass publication of anything and that power can also be abused to it must be kept in check. As if misused this power can bring a country to its knees and this is the reason that even though the right to broadcast is a judicially recognized right still there always has been a law to regulate it. We will be seeing the legality of the right to broadcast and the stages in which the laws which came to regulate it evolved.

Judicial background of Right to Broadcast:
Indian constitution has provided the Indian citizens with fundamental rights and one of these rights is Right to free speech and expression which is covered under article 19(1)(a). The right to free Speech and expression is also expanding and evolving with the developing modes of communications.

Broadcasting is also a recently developed and effective mode of communication like internet and other e-communications so, it is also covered under article 19(1)(a).

Following are the cases when right to broadcast is recognized judicially:

  • Odyssey Communications (P) Ltd. v. Lokvidayan Sangatana[4]:

    The petitioner in this case objected to the airing of the Honi Anhoni television series on the channel Doordarshan because he believed it promoted superstition and blind faith in the public. As a result of the petitioner's inability to provide any evidence that could prove that the society had suffered any harm, the petition was rejected.

    The Supreme Court ruled that viewers have the freedom to show films on Doordarshan as long as they abide by the channel's rules and regulations. In accordance with Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, broadcasting is a part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and may only be restricted within the terms of Article 19(2) that is reasonable restrictions on Article 19(1).

    The court determined that this right is quite comparable to a citizen's freedom to express his or her opinions through any other medium, such as newspapers, periodicals, holdings for advertisements, etc.
  • LIC v. Manubhai D. Shah[5:

    Right to broadcast was also recognized in this case. The challenge in this case was Doordarshan's reluctance to air the documentary "Beyond Genocide" about the Bhopal gas tragedy." Doordarshan declined to air the movie for a number of reasons, including that it was out of date, no longer relevant, lacked moderation and restraint, was unfair and unbalanced, political parties were bringing up a number of issues related to the tragedy, the victims' claims for compensation were still pending, the movie would likely stir up trouble in an already tense environment, and it criticised the state government's actions.

    The Supreme Court ruled that Doordarshan, a state-controlled organisation that relied on public finances, was not permitted to refuse to air the movie since it was unable to present a convincing justification under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, upholding the right to broadcast.
  • The Secretary, Ministry of Information v. Cricket Association of Bengal & Anr.[6]:

    The cricket association's right to offer television rights to a particular agency was at issue in this case. According to article 19(1)(a), the right to be amused and to be amused, in this case via broadcast media, is an essential aspect of freedom. This freedom depends in large part on the circulation and dissemination of knowledge, and television, which has the largest audience possible, is a crucial medium for communication.

    The Supreme Court held that broadcasting is a means of communication and the medium of speech and expression within the framework of article 19(1)(a). The court continued by ruling that the telecaster's right was restricted because it depended on the use of the airwaves, a common property resource. Free access is limited by the airwave spectrum that is available.

    Government organisations may lawfully place restrictions on transmissions based on the accessibility of the airwaves as well as the justifications provided under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. This restriction was not applicable because the viewers' fundamental right to information, education, and entertainment was upheld.
  • Directorate General of Doordarshan v. Anand Patwardhan[7]:

    This case arose when Doordarshan refused to telecast respondent's documentary film titled Father, son and Holy war. The documentary was the third of a respondent-produced trilogy that addressed communal violence. Doordarshan declined to show the preceding films despite the fact that they had won national prizes, claiming that doing so would lead to law and order issues.

    The first two movies, whose telecast had been rejected by Doordarshan, were the ones to which the respondent was successful in his challenge. The High Court's order mandating the telecast of the movie was affirmed by the Supreme Court. It stated that because Doordarshan is a state-controlled organisation supported by public funds.

    It is unable to reject the respondent's request to air a documentary film unless there are conditions which are laid down in Article 19(2). Since Doordarshan is a national broadcaster and has power over the public's airwaves, it is required to air a movie that addresses social injustices including caste, class, and violence against women.

    All the above cases show that Right to broadcast is a fundamental right covered under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. Since, it deals with public at large so there are also laws for regulating it and they have evolved with time.

Evolution of Broadcasting Laws in India:

The introduction of broadcasting technology in India occurred before independence, and as a result, the laws governing wireless and radio transmission predate the establishment of an independent Indian government.
  • Pre Independence:
    The Telegraph Act, 1885 was the first piece of legislation of significance. Government control over the installation, upkeep, and operation of wireless equipment was granted by this statute. The central government of India shall have the sole right to establish, maintain, and operate telegraphs[8], said the act.

    The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 was passed in 1933 to address the situation of radio receivers and wireless operators, who were not covered by the Telegraph Act of 1885. The new law made using a radio set without a licence illegal.

    Radio was the only form of broadcasting at first. The Indian Broadcasting Company, founded in 1927, launched the nation's first radio service, operating stations in Bombay, Calcutta, and Lahore until going out of business in March 1930. Soon after, the Government of India assumed direct control over broadcasting, and the service designated as the Indian state broadcasting service started transmitting. By 1932's end, the British broadcasting service started transmitting to the empire. This shows that in the earlier days the government had the monopoly over the broadcasting.

    The Indian government's state broadcasting service was then renamed All India Radio in 1936, and the following year it was moved from the department of labour to the department of communications. The department of information and broadcasting was established in 1941, and after the country gained its independence in 1947, it became the ministry of information and broadcasting.
  • Post-Independence:
    After the independence and formation of constitution in 1950, A system for film censorship was put in place when The Cinematograph act, 1952 was created. Two distinct concerns were covered in it:
    1. Evaluating and approving movies as suitable for exhibition.
    2. Regulation of movie theatres, including licencing.
Some provisions of this act were under the central list, some under state list while some under the concurrent list. The act of 1952 was passed to establish a distinct line of demarcation between the laws pertaining to the licencing and control of films as a state issue and the provisions relating to the sanctioning of pictures for public display, a union matter. The Censor board or Board of Film Certification was established by the statute. All the films that are to be exhibited must obtain certification from this board.

TV had only been available in Delhi since 1959, and Bombay only got it in 1972. It was expanded to border towns like Srinagar and Amritsar in 1973 in an effort to counteract the effect of Pakistani TV, which was already available in those sensitive border regions. In the Kashmir valley, 250 TV receivers were soon installed in villages. Government viewpoints on social and political topics were broadcast on television.

Television was grossly abused during the 1975 emergency, and as a result, there was a call for its autonomy after the emergency. Then, following the emergency and the election of the first non-Congress government, the government displayed a white paper on the improper use of the media during the emergency.

This was given before parliament at the conclusion of the formation of a working committee to examine the autonomy of Akashvani and Doordarshan within the framework of the government. This was India's first concentrated effort at broadcasting reform. The working committee suggested that a trust should be established called Akash Bharti, or national broadcasting trust. A bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, however it expired with the 1979 dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

This bill was rejected by the Indira Gandhi administration when it took back office in 1980 on the grounds that "such an organisation is not regarded required to enable those mass media to perform their core aim of serving people who are not serviced by other media." A report titled "new policy for broadcast media" was published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in May 1982.

This was the end result of recommendations made for the restructuring of various media organisations by an advisory committee led by G. Parthasarathi. The rules addressed news selection and presentation, political coverage, statements and retorts, strikes, riots and disturbances, sex and crime, national tragedies, deaths and anniversaries, external news, subversion and insurgency, comments, opinion, speculation, and rumour.

In 1989, when a non-Congress government took office, the concept of Akash Bharti was revived. In 1989, a bill known as Prasar Bharati was introduced in the legislature. A board of governors was intended to oversee Prasar Bharati like a company. The item and Akash Bharti's were fairly similar.

However, the proposal does not include the provision that guarantees the freedom of speech and expression as well as the independence, impartiality, and integrity of the nation's broadcasting. When it was finally passed in 1990, it wasn't exactly how it had been intended. The bill established a parliamentary committee to oversee the corporation's operations and required it to report back to the legislature.

There were 22 members total on the committee, with 15 coming from the Lok Sabha and the remaining 7 from the Rajya Sabha. The major responsibility of the corporation is to organise and operate public broadcasting service to inform, educate, and entertain the people as well as to ensure a balanced development of broadcasting on radio and television, according to Section 12 of the Prasar Bharti Act of 1990. This Act didn't talk about the autonomy of the broadcasting which was later notified by a congress government in 1997.

For many years following the nation's independence, the government had authority over the broadcasting industry. In actuality, radio and television were exploited as a voice for the political party in power, despite the fact that they are still government monopolies that are purportedly in place for national development and the greater good.

After the country's borders were opened to foreign investment in 1991, the Indian Airtime Committee was established in September 1992 to look into the best ways to provide commercial broadcasters access to the electronic media. This was a step in the direction of privatisation because it allowed private producers to produce for Doordarshan, but the committee's recommendations were not implemented. Additionally, many satellite-based TV services were introduced, and Doordarshan was surpassed by technological advancements.

Zee TV, a Hindi satellite station that became a rival to Doordarshan, was one of many new satellite-based TV providers. The Metro Channel, the government's first entertainment channel, was launched in response to the competition. There were up to 12 satellite-based channels available in India by the end of 1995.

Because the government had monopolised the right to uplink from within the country for its own broadcasting organisations, all of the services were uplinkeded from outside of India. The increase of private channels amounted to little less than a revolution. In addition to providing options for entertainment services, the expansion of private channels opened up millions of new job opportunities.

The government's initial response to the invasion of its satellites was one of reluctance. It was neither forbidden nor approved by the government. The growth of cable TV was entirely unplanned and the outcome of local youth enterprise. The government played no part in it. The government did nothing to stop the transmission or control its content. This may have been due to the government's utter inability to enforce its ban on terrestrial redistribution services.

Cable services were not regulated until the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act,1995 was passed. However, the scope of this Act was limited to regulating cable operators and did not cover telecasting rights.

Legislation governing cable networks was made possible by a Rajasthan High Court ruling. The case Shiv Cable TV System v. State of Rajasthan[9] was filed when a district administrator ordered the local police to stop a cable TV network because the operator did not have the necessary licenses.

The district administration's order was contested by the affected operators in the Rajasthan High Court on the grounds that there was no law requiring them to obtain licences for their networks. They claimed that the district administration's actions went against their fundamental right to operate their businesses and trades.

The state government said that in order for the cable operators to lawfully run their networks, they had to seek licences under the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933. The High Court upheld that argument and determined that the dish antenna used by the cable operator qualified as a wireless telegraphy device under the Wireless Telegraph Act, 1933 because it could receive transient images of stationary and moving objects from satellites.

It was decided that a wireless licence was necessary for the operation of the dish antenna unless it was exempted. The cable operators had to maintain statutory licences in order for their dish antennas to download programmes from satellites and to transmit downloaded programmes through their network to customers, according to the court's ruling, which stated that lines and cables in a cable network were covered by the definition of a telegraph line under the Telegraph Act, 1885.

Despite so coming to the conclusion, the High Court annulled the district administration's challenged orders because they were made without jurisdiction. It was determined that only the director general of posts and telegraphs, a central government official, was authorised to take the contested action under the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933.

The High Court determined that there were no regulations for cable networks set forth by the government. The court urged the government to establish a licencing system to control cable networks after concluding that an outright ban on them would be difficult given how quickly they had expanded.

Because of this ruling, an ordinance that provided a legal foundation for regulating cable networks was passed in 1994. The Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, 1995 was subsequently passed after the ordinance was approved by parliament. This was changed in 2003 to mandate the use of CASs by cable subscribers in order to access premium channels. The goal of the new telecom policy of 1999 was to bring the cable industry and the market for communication services closer together[10].

Along with fixed and cellular licensees, it designated cable operators as access providers. The provision of last-mile connectivity, switched services, and one-way entertainment services by cable providers in their individual service areas was made possible. Within their service region, cable operators are permitted to share infrastructure and connect directly to other service providers.

Later in February 1995 Supreme Court of India gave a landmark judgement in The Hero Cup Case (Ministry of Information and broadcasting v. cricket association of Bengal) When the Cricket Association of Bengal decided to host an international tournament in honour of their diamond jubilee, they approached Doordarshan to make the necessary arrangements for the game to be televised in India. They also requested a signal for foreign television, but Doordarshan rejected their request.

This was contested in front of The Supreme Court on the grounds that it violated the fundamental right to free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. In response, the Apex court ruled that the government did not have a monopoly on electronic media. The Supreme Court also heard that the right to telecast was covered by Article 19(1)(a), that the airwaves are public property, and that they should be used for the benefit of the public. It also ordered the creation of a separate body for controlling of airwaves.

Modern Scenario:
Today, the major bodies controlling broadcasting in India are: Ministry of I&B, TRAI and CBFC. Following are the description of these authorities.

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which is a ministerial-level government organisation in India that is in charge of creating and enforcing legislation in the fields of information, broadcasting, the press, and Indian cinema.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) whose objective is to is to provide a fair and transparent policy environment which promotes a level playing field and facilitates fair competition. It was established by The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, an Act of Parliament, with effect from February 20, 1997, to oversee telecom services, including the fixing or revising of telecom service tariffs that had previously been under the control of the Central Government.

A Telecommunications Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) was established to take over the adjudicatory and disputes functions from TRAI, and the TRAI Act was amended by an ordinance, which became effective on January 24, 2000. TDSAT was established to hear and decide appeals against any directive, judgement, or order of TRAI as well as to settle disputes between a licensor and a licensee, between two or more service providers, and between a service provider and a group of customers[11].

Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC)[12] which is also known as the Censor Board and whose job it is to certify that feature films, short films, trailers, documentaries, and theatre-based advertising are appropriate for public viewing through screening and rating. It was created by the Cinematography Act 1952.

In the contemporary times television and cinemas are not the only ways at disposal for broadcasting, after the arrival of the internet there are many contents accessible to large masses on the internet and to publish any content on the internet there is no need of any licence, all a person need is an internet connection and account on the platform. So, it becomes difficult for the government to regulate such content.

OTT (Over the top) platforms are one such new platforms which were not much regulated by the government and since unregulated power can become boon for the nation the government decided to come up with something to regulate this platform. In 2021 the Ministry of I&B introduced the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

This rule made it mandatory for the intermediaries to avoid harmful and hateful content form being published, anything which is libellous or defamatory should be removed and people have a tribunal to file their grievances. So, after this OTT platforms are also in check from doing anything which could possibly harm the tranquillity of the country.

We have seen that broadcasting is acknowledged as a fundamental right provided to every citizen by the Supreme Court of India through many landmark cases. Although right to broadcast an fundamental right still it is a powerful tool so there have been many laws to regulate it and they have kept on evolving from Telegraph Act 1855 to IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

It has evolved from regulating telegraph to regulating OTT platforms on the internet. This is not the end of this evolution as the society and technology is still continuously evolving and so will the laws to regulate them to meet the latest requirement of the society.

  1. Sterling, Christopher H. and Skretvedt, Randy. "radio". Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Jul. 2021, Accessed 17 February 2023.
  2. Prasar Bharati, "Growth & Development," (Prasar Bharati) Available at:, last checked on 17 February 2023
  3. The Law Dictionary, "BROADCASTING Definition & Legal Meaning," (Black's Law Dictionary), Available at:, last checked on 17 February 2023
  4. (1988) 3 SCC 410
  5. (1992) 3 SCC 637, AIR 1991 SC 171
  6. 1995 AIR 1236, 1995 SCC (2) 161
  7. (2006) 8 SCC 433: AIR 2006 SC 3346
  8. Section 4, The Telegraph Act 1885
  9. AIR 1993 Raj 197
  10. See, Ministry of Communications, New Telecom Policy 1999
  11. TRAI, "History," TRAI, Available at:, last checked on 17 February 2023.
  12. Section 3, Cinematograph act, 1952
Written By: Vaibhav Singh

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