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Press Laws


Press Laws The regulation concerning newspapers in Indian subcontinent was passed for the first time in 1799 during the viceroyalty of Lord Wellesley. It stated that every newspaper must bear the name of the owner of the printing press, the publisher and the editor. By virtue of an ordinance of 1823 governor general Adams introduced licensing for the newspapers. This was annulled in 1835 but reintroduced in 1857. The penal code was enacted in 1860, which included the subjects of defamation and obscenity. The subjects of sedition and the act of creating class-enmity were incorporated into this law in 1870 and 1898 respectively.

The Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867 introduced the convention of registration and preservation of all newspapers and books. Vernacular Press Act of 1878 empowered the government to take action against any seditious writing. A number of provisions in the code of criminal procedure of 1898 touched the operation of newspapers. The Newspapers Incitement to Offences Act of 1908 gave a magistrate the power to seize a newspaper if it published anything malicious. The Press Act of 1910 empowered the government to ask the concerned press for a deposit if it published material instigating crimes, such as sedition and killing or homicide. The Press and Registration of Books Act, Customs Act and Post Office Act were amended in 1922, and at the same time the Acts of 1908 and 1910 were annulled. The Official Secrets Act of 1923 prohibited publication of any official secret as news item.

After the emergence of Bangladesh the Printing Press and Publication Act came into force in 1973. It gave a district magistrate the power to grant permission to publish newspapers. The Newspaper Employees (Condition of Service) Act of 1974 laid down rules for ensuring rights and privileges of the journalists and the employees in the newspapers. It also gave birth to the Bangladesh Press Council that had been working for freedom of press and improvement of the quality of news since 1979. Moreover, Special Powers Act of 1974, Official Secrets Act of 1923, Copyright Act, Contempt of Court Act, Children Act, Criminal Procedure Code, and so on exert influence upon the working of the newspapers in one way or the other.

The Printing Presses and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act of 1973 specifies the responsibilities of the newspapers. Clause 3 of this Act lays down that the names and places of the presses and publishers should be printed clearly on all printed newspapers. Clause 4 lays down that the declaration of the press must be submitted to the magistrate. Clause 6 lays down that each copy of the newspaper must bear the name of the publisher. Clause 7 specifics that the printer and publisher of the newspaper must submit a declaration to the district magistrate and the newspaper must be published within three months of that declaration. A new declaration was required in case a daily newspaper has been banned for three months and other newspapers for six months. Clause 10 stipulates that the declaration specifying the place, duration and language of the newspaper will be cancelled if the newspaper is published from a different place, for a different duration and in a different language. This section, however, will not apply if the changes are made on temporary basis for a period not exceeding 30 days and are communicated to the district magistrate within 72 hours. Clause 11 lays down that if the printer or the publisher of the newspaper lives outside Bangladesh for a period exceeding six months, the name and consent of the person who would perform the responsibility in their absence should be submitted in writing to the district magistrate before he leaves the country. Otherwise the declaration for the newspaper will be cancelled. Clause 12 gives the magistrate the power to refuse certification.

In order to certify the declaration, the magistrate will have to be satisfied to the effect that the owner of the printing press and the publisher of the newspaper are citizens of Bangladesh, that no other newspaper bears the proposed name, that neither the owner of the press nor the publisher of the newspaper has been convicted on the ground of moral turpitude within last five years, that they are not insane, that they have the required financial solvency, and that the editor has the requisite qualification as well. Clause 20 provides the magistrate with the power to cancel the certificate. Clause 20(a) lays down that the government can ban a newspaper if anything morally unacceptable is published in it. This also gives the government the power to seize any uncertified newspaper. According to clause 26, all newspapers must provide the government four complimentary copies of each of the issues.

Under Children Act 1974 anybody below 16 years is regarded as a 'child'. This Act prohibits a newspaper from publishing name, address or school by which a child can be identified, without prior permission.

The Press Council was established with the objective of maintaining freedom of the press and improving the quality of news and those who present them. The Press Council Act was promulgated in February 1974. In accordance with this Act, the Press Council was established on 18 August 1979. It consists of 15 members and can be chaired only by a judge of the Supreme Court or anyone having such qualification and is nominated by the President of Bangladesh. Of the 14 other members 3 will be working journalists, 3 will be editors of news agencies and 3 owners or top executives of news agencies. The panel of experts will consist of three members of which one member will be nominated by the University Grants Commission, one by the Bangla Academy, and the other by the Bangladesh Bar Council. Two members of Jatiya Sangsad are to be nominated by the Speaker. The Press Council Act of 1974 entrusted Bangladesh Press Council with the following responsibilities:

(i) to adjudicate complaints against a newspaper, news agency or a journalist. The council can also, on its own initiative, investigate an offence arising from the violation of the principle of journalism and rebuke or give warning to the guilty person or organisation;

(ii) to help maintain freedom of the press and of the people engaged in the profession of journalism;

(iii) to formulate from time to time the code of conduct for the newspapers, news agencies, and journalism in the light of high professional standard;

(iv) to ensure that the news agencies or journalists should be conscious of their rights and obligations in addition to maintaining a high professional quality in their jobs;

(v) to create a sense of duty as well as motivation for public service among those who are engaged in journalism;

(vi) to ensure presentation and transmission of news in the interest of the masses and make sure that there is no obstacle in this respect;

(vii) to watch if any agency connected with a newspaper and the news world takes financial assistance from any foreign source;

(viii) to undertake research on national and foreign newspapers and their influence;

(ix) to make arrangement for research on instruction and training for those engaged in the profession;

(x) to assure technical and other kinds of research;

(xi) to make effort to establish professional contacts among those engaged in the management of newspapers and news agencies; and

(xii) to take steps to accomplish these activities.

While performing its duties the Press Council enjoys some rights and jurisdiction of the civil court on such matters as summon, presentation and deposition of the witnesses. It can also summon documents and compel them to be presented, to take witness through affidavit, to summon public records from the offices, and to commission for testing the deposition of witness and its documents. However, it cannot compel any newspaper, news agency, journalist or editor to disclose the sources of their news. It enjoys powers of a civil court. Hence, anybody giving false witness before the press council will be committing a crime and can be punished. The judgement of the press council is final and there can be no appeal against it. No case can be filed in this regard. All judgements made by the press council have to be attested by its chairman and all warrants signed by its secretary. The Press Council Act has given the government the power to make rules on certain matters, which have been made accordingly. The law gives the council power to formulate certain regulations for its activities.

Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) Act was enacted in 1974. It repealed the Working Journalists (Condition of Service) Ordinance of 1960. Clause 2 of this Act states that any periodical that publishes public news or expresses comments on them are also called newspapers. The government can declare any other periodical as newspaper through a gazette notification. The newspaper employees here refer to (a) the working journalists; (b) the administrative personnel; and (c) the persons engaged in printing the newspapers. Clause 3 lays down that Industrial Relations Ordinance XXII of 1969 will be applicable to the newspaper employees. Clause 4 makes it obligatory for an employer to specify the nature of job as well as the date and conditions of appointment at the time of offering employment. Clause 5 states the provision for provident fund under the supervision of the 'Board of Trustees'. Clause 6 lays down that no employee can be asked to work for a period exceeding 48 hours a week. Clause 7 provides for leave of absence to a working journalist at minimum of one eleventh of the total working days on full salary, a medical leave of a minimum of one eighteenth of the total working days on half salary, and a casual leave of ten days a year on full salary. Clause 8 lays down provision for the medical treatment of the employees and their dependents. According to clause 9, the government can through notification in the gazette form a wage board headed by a chairman in order to fix the pay scales for the newspaper employees. Clause 10 provides for a review of pay scales on the basis of such considerations as the cost of living, salary of similar jobs in government and corporations or private organisations and conditions of newspaper industry in different regions of the country. Clause 11 states that decisions of the wage board should be published in the official gazette within a period of one month mentioning the date on which the decision will be effective. Clause 12 stipulates that the board formed as per clause 9 will have the jurisdiction of a labour court and follow the same procedure. Clause 13 lays down that all appointing authorities connected with newspaper or news agencies must obey the decision of the board and no appointing authority can offer a salary below the scale specified by the board. According to clause 14, the board can fix pay scales for the interim period. It has been stated in clause 15 that Employment of Labour (Standing Order) Act will be applicable to those news organisations which have twenty or more employees. Clause 16 states that this rule will prevail whatever may be other acts or laws. However, no benefit previously enjoyed by an employee can be curtailed under the existing provision. Under clause 17 the government can appoint an inspector who is allowed to enter into the compound of the news organisations and examine their records. He can also ask for clarifications from the appointing authorities and examine witnesses. According to Article 18, anyone violating this is liable, subject to the consent of the inspector, to be fined. Under clause 20 the government can formulate rules concerning work hours, leave, provident fund and procedures to be followed by the wage board. By clause 21 the Working Journalists (Conditions of Service) Ordinance has been repealed.

The Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) was established on 1 January 1972. Ordinance No. XX formulated in 1979 provides for the establishment of the Sangstha, and defines its nature and scope of activities. Its responsibilities include collection of domestic and international news on politics, diplomacy, business, commerce and economics, culture and sports and make arrangement for sale of news, pictures and features at home and abroad. Under clause 7 all activities of the Sangstha will be conducted by a board. This board consists of a chairman nominated by the government, one managing director, one director from the ministry of information, one director from the ministry of finance, one director from the ministry of telephone and telegraph, five directors from among editors of the newspapers, and one director from among the employees of the Sangstha. Clause 12 lays down provision for one managing director of the Sangstha who will also be its chief editor and will be appointed by the government and will work as its full time executive. Under clause 16 fund will be raised from the government grant or loan, fees from the subscribers, donation etc. According to clause 23, the Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha will be entrusted with the responsibility of the entire property of the Bangladesh Associated Press.

At present two news agencies are working in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and the United News of Bangladesh (UNB). UNB is a private limited company and works under the company law of the country. The Eastern News Agency, which had been working since 1970, ceased to exist in the eighties. Currently these two agencies are under contract with such international agencies as Reuters of UK, AP of USA, AFP of Paris, DPA of Germany, PTI of India, APP of Pakistan, RSS of Nepal, NCNA of China, Kyodo of Japan, and many others.

According to the Contempt of Court Act of 1926, if any publication tries to influence the trial of a case it will be charged with contempt of court. An editorial of a newspaper will come under contempt of court if it crosses irresponsibly the limits of objective criticism concerning a judgement of the Supreme Court or tries to destroy trust in the judicial system, detracts the judges from performing their duties, creates obstacle towards enforcing the fundamental rights, and creates dissention through activities inconsistent with the Constitution.

Any material published in a newspaper will undoubtedly defame court if it spreads scandals regarding its chief justice and other judges, expresses views to the effect that the people have lost trust in the judicial system or that judges act under foreign influence or under any other consideration not connected with the process of law as a result of which there cannot be any justice.

Any person writing and publishing an article defaming the chief justice and other judges of the supreme court without any valid ground shall be punishable under the contempt of court law. An article shall be examined very carefully by the court before it can be judged to have made any objectionable comments or irresponsibly prejudged any decision of the court. If it is found that the article can prejudice the status and reputation of the court, then it will fall under the defamation of the court. However, any objective and logical criticism consistent with the public interest does not fall under this category.

Any person convicted on a charge of defamation of the court can be punished by either a jail sentence upto six months or a fine of upto two thousand taka or both. The convicted person can be pardoned if apology is offered.

The Code of Criminal Procedure Under clause 99 (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), and (f) the government may confiscate all copies of a newspaper if it publishes anything subversive of the state or provoking an uprising or anything that creates enmity and hatred among the citizens or denigrates religious beliefs. The magistrate can send police with an warrant to the place where these newspapers are found. The aggrieved person can take the matter to the notice of the high court.

Under clause 108 of Code of Criminal Procedure a magistrate can ask for an undertaking from a person who has made an attempt to express anything seditious or create class-conflict or threaten judge. Under clause 144 of Criminal Procedure a magistrate can prevent a journalist from going to his specified place of work.

The Copyright Ordinance 1962 Copyright means absolute ownership or right. Anybody writing something innovative by dint of his work and expertise is entitled to its copyright. However, the owner of the newspaper or magazine holds the copyright of whatever is published in it at a contractual fee or whatever is published by someone during the period of his apprenticeship in that newspaper or magazine. Otherwise the writer has the copyright to it. Plagiarism is regarded as a violation of copyright. According to the Copyright Act, the publication, playacting, adaptation, translation or dramatization are prohibited without prior permission from the owner or without license. However, copyright is not violated if these are used as quotation, transcript, reproduction, translation and fair and appropriate use for the purpose of criticism, research and review.

The Official Secrets Act, 1923 Under clause 3 of this Act any person can be convicted of criminal offence if that person goes to a restricted place or proceeds toward that place or makes a map or sketch of that place or collects confidential information about that place or publishes that information. Under section 3(a), nobody can publish any photo, sketch or map of a secret place. Under clause 4, collection of news or information in collaboration with any foreign agent is not permissible. Under clause 5, information collected secretly cannot be published. If a newspaper publishes a secret news, the reporter, editor, printer and publisher will be guilty of committing an offence. Any connivance in this matter will be treated as a criminal offence.

Under clause 5 of the Telegraph Act 1885, the government can hold any news or report from publication. [Aminur Rahman Sarkar]