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Media Law and the Rights of Women in India
Women’s rights, as a term, typically refers to the freedoms inherently possessed by
women and girls of all ages, which may be institutionalized, ignored or illegitimately
suppressed by law, custom, and behavior in a particular society. These liberties are
grouped together and differentiated from broader notions of human rights because they
often differ from the freedoms inherently possessed by or recognized for men and boys,
and because activism surrounding this issue claims an inherent historical and traditional
bias against the exercise of rights by women.
Issues commonly associated with notions of women’s rights include, though are not
limited to, the right: to bodily integrity and autonomy; to vote (universal suffrage); to
hold public office; to work; to fair wages or equal pay; to own property; to education; to
serve in the military; to enter into legal contracts; and to have marital, parental and
religious rights. Today, women in most nations can vote, own property, work in many
different professions, and hold public office. These are some of the rights of the modern
woman. But women have not always been allowed to do these things, similar to the
experiences of the majority of men throughout history. Women and their supporters have
waged and in some places continue to wage long campaigns to win the same rights as
modern men and be viewed as equals in society.
Evolution of women’s rights in India
Position of women in ancient India
The position of women since long has been pitiable in all aspects of life and her
subjection by males has been throughout a matter of history. She could not feel
independent, and act as so, barring a few exceptions.
The women in Vedic period enjoyed equal status with men and independence in action.
Not only they had the place of honour, but were entitled to participate freely in social
activities. They were allowed to pursue the academic attainments and shared the family
life with full vigour. They were free to select their conjugal partner and exercised free
will in entering into the matrimonial bondage.
The privileges that women enjoyed in the Vedic period were short lived and the position
of women began to decline from the latter Vedic period onwards. Post Vedic period saw
the emergence of Manusmrithi. The injunctions of Manu merged the wife’s individuality
with that of her husband and recommended strict seclusions for women and rigorous
discipline for widows. While glorifying motherhood and allowing women all freedom in
the management of the household, he permitted child marriage and polygamy. In the
Dharma-shastra women are unambiguously equated with the sudras. Even the Gita
places women, vaisyas and sudras in the same category and describes them as being of
sinful birth. Moreover women lead a life in abject misery. The women were denied the
right of equal opportunity in the field of education as well as in employment. The
inhuman system of .Sati. was prevalent as a compulsory custom. Widows were not only
precluded from remarrying, but they were also not allowed to live after the death of their
husband. There also existed the system of Purda, were the women had to cover her face
and body with a robe when she was to be seen in public. These were not only deprivation
of the rights of women but were also social evils which plagued the ancient Indian
society. The other evils which affected the women in ancient India were child marriage,
female infanticide, Dowry system etc.
During the British rule, many new rules were being legislated to abolish certain social
evils which have direct impact on the rights of the women. Many social reformers during
this period including Raja Ram Mohan Roy worked hard for the abolition of the system
of sati and reinstated in its place the right of widows to remarry. More emphasis was
given to provide opportunities for improving the plight of women like improving
opportunities for female education etc.
After Independence, most of the social evils like Sati system, child marriage, female
infanticide etc which affected the rights of women adversely were abolished. More laws
were enacted to provide women equal status with man in the field of education and
employment opportunities, laws were also enacted for preventing discrimination against
women on the basis of gender. Constitution of India also provides for provisions in order
to protect the rights of women. Reservations were made in the public sector to increase
the ratio of women population and to bring it in par with the male population. The Indian
penal code has also adopted stringent measures to deal with crimes against women. Penal
punishments were incorporated for dealing with the crimes of rape, marital violence
against women, prostitution etc. The Dowry Prohibition act also provides for punishment
in giving and accepting of Dowry. Recently a bill was enacted to prevent harassment of
women in their work places.
International conventions for the protection and promotion of women rights
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an
international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines
what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action
to end such discrimination.
The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion
or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or
nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital
status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental
freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
By accepting the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of
measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:
To incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish
all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against
women; Establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection
of women against discrimination; and to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination
against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.
The Convention provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men
through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public
life — including the right to vote and to stand for election — as well as education, health
and employment. States parties agree to take all appropriate measures, including
legislation and temporary special measures, so that women can enjoy all their human
rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Convention is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of
women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and
family relations. It affirms women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality
and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures
against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women.
Countries that have ratified or acceded to the Convention are legally bound to put its
provisions into practice. They are also committed to submit national reports, at least
every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.
United Nations Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict
Bearing in mind the need to provide special protection to women and children belonging
to the civilian population, solemnly proclaims this Declaration on the Protection of
Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict and calls for the strict
observance of the Declaration by all Member States:
1. Attacks and bombings on the civilian population, inflicting incalculable suffering,
especially on women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of the
population, shall be prohibited, and such acts shall be condemned.
2. The use of chemical and bacteriological weapons in the course of military operations
constitutes one of the most flagrant violations of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, the
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the principles of international humanitarian law and
inflicts heavy losses on civilian populations, including defenceless women and children,
and shall be severely condemned.
3. All States shall abide fully by their obligations under the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and
the Geneva Conventions of 1949, as well as other instruments of international law
relative to respect for human rights in armed conflicts, which offer important guarantees
for the protection of women and children.
4. All efforts shall be made by States involved in armed conflicts, military operations in
foreign territories or military operations in territories still under colonial domination to
spare women and children from the ravages of war. All the necessary steps shall be taken
to ensure the prohibition of measures such as persecution, torture, punitive measures,
degrading treatment and violence, particularly against that part of the civilian population
that consists of women and children.
5. All forms of repression and cruel and inhuman treatment of women and children,
including imprisonment, torture, shooting, mass arrests, collective punishment,
destruction of dwellings and forcible eviction, committed by belligerents in the course of
military operations or in occupied territories shall be considered criminal.
6. Women and children belonging to the civilian population and finding themselves in
circumstances of emergency and armed conflict in the struggle for peace, selfdetermination,
national liberation and independence, or who live in occupied territories,
shall not be deprived of shelter, food, medical aid or other inalienable rights, in
accordance with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child or other
instruments of international law.
United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women
The declaration mainly aims at protecting women from torture. For the purposes of this
Declaration, the term “violence against women” means any act of gender-based violence
that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering
to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty,
whether occurring in public or in private life.
Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the
( a ) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including
battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence,
marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women,
non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
( b ) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general
community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in
educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
( c ) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State,
wherever it occurs.
The Declaration aims at making the world a safer destination for women and to enjoy
their rights without any encumbrances.
ACLU Women’s Rights Project
Since 1972, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project has worked to empower women and
advance equality. Many people, before and since, have contributed to our effort.
The Women’s Rights Project focuses on four core areas:
WRP advocates on behalf of low-wage immigrant women workers, works to eliminate
welfare disparities, and seeks to end workplace discrimination.
Violence Against Women
WRP is committed to advancing battered women’s civil rights, assisting women in their
efforts to keep themselves and their children safe, and challenging the housing and
employment discrimination experienced by so many battered women, especially low income and women of color.
WRP addresses the harms to women and girls caught up in the criminal and juvenile
justice systems, including their conditions of confinement, and the impact of sentencing
and incarceration policies on women and their children.
WRP is dedicated to ensuring that public schools do not become sex-segregated and that
girls and boys receive equal educational opportunities.
Legislations in India for the Protection of Women
The major women specific legislations in India are the following:
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956- The Immoral Traffic act aimed at
preventing immoral activities using women. It provides punishment for women
trafficking, carrying on the business of prostitution, keeping a brothel etc.
Role of Media in the protection of women’s rights
Media plays a very important role in creating awareness among the women community
about their inherent rights, which they were deprived of for many centuries. Media plays
the role of a saviour in whom the power to protect and enhance the rights of the women is
arrogated. Media through its visual broadcasting should project the abject and miserable
lives and living conditions of women in rural India. More documentaries and screen plays
projecting women.s rights should be aired through visual media. Media plays an
important role in coordinating the activities of social workers who play an important role
in striving to establish women.s rights. Print media through various journals meant
exclusively for women entails a place in this men dominated world. Media has certain
forums specifically for the promotion and advancement of the interest of women folk.
Media through its various agencies helps to agitate and voice against any intrusion into
the rights of the women. In the modern age crimes against women have also became very
rampant, media was an active tool in voicing against such acts and bringing such illegal
acts to the eyes of the concerned authorities and thus keeping the issue as a hot spot
which requires urgent attention. Media also acts as an effective tool in educating people
against the commission of such atrocious acts against the women community and thus
preserving their purity and sacredness. Media also through various debates and
discussions help the legislators in identifying new areas for legislating laws for the
protection of women.
Negative effects of media on the rights of women
Media has both positive as well as negative effects on the rights of women. Media has
been a cause for the increase in infringement of the right to privacy of a woman. Media
through obscene publication and visual presentations have demeaned the dignity of
women in the modern society. Modern films tend to glorify violence and as a result
infuse such ideas in the minds of the youth. Media has played a significant role in the
promotion and circulation of pornographic materials which in turn will result in
trafficking of women, flesh trade etc. Media is a corner stone in shaping the lives of the
new generation, as majority of the modern generation are glued to them. Media through
films and publications tend to drastically revolutionise the minds of the people without
their knowledge and awareness. Hence there has to be a strict check and control on the
contents that are aired and published through the media. It was this concept which paved
the way for the development of media laws.
Media laws and its Evolution in India
In India the Press is free but subject to certain reasonable restrictions imposed by the
Constitution of India, 1950, as amended (“Constitution”). Before the impact of
globalisation was felt, the mass media was wholly controlled by the government, which
let the media project only what the government wanted the public to see and in a way in
which it wanted the public to see it. However, with the onset of globalisation and
privatisation, the situation has undergone a humongous change.
Before the invention of communication satellites, communication was mainly in the
form of national media, both public and private, in India and abroad. Then came the
‘transnational media’ with the progress of communication technologies like Satellite
delivery and ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), the outcome: local TV, global
films and global information systems.
In such an era of media upsurge, it becomes an absolute necessity to impose certain legal
checks and bounds on transmission and communication. In the due course of this article,
we would discuss the various aspects of media and the relevant legal checks and bounds
Historical Perspective of Mass Media Laws
Mass Media laws in India have a long history and are deeply rooted in the country.s
colonial experience under British rule. The earliest regulatory measures can be traced
back to 1799 when Lord Wellesley promulgated the Press Regulations, which had the
effect of imposing pre-censorship on an infant newspaper publishing industry. The onset
of 1835 saw the promulgation of the Press Act, which undid most of, the repressive
features of earlier legislations on the subject.
Thereafter on 18th June 1857, the government passed the .Gagging Act., which among
various other things, introduced compulsory licensing for the owning or running of
printing presses; empowered the government to prohibit the publication or circulation of
any newspaper, book or other printed material and banned the publication or
dissemination of statements or news stories which had a tendency to cause a furore
against the government, thereby weakening its authority.
Then followed the .Press and Registration of Books Act. in 1867 and which continues to
remain in force till date. Governor General Lord Lytton promulgated the .Vernacular
Press Act. of 1878 allowing the government to clamp down on the publication of
writings deemed seditious and to impose punitive sanctions on printers and publishers
who failed to fall in line. In 1908, Lord Minto promulgated the .Newspapers (Incitement
to Offences) Act, 1908 which authorized local authorities to take action against the editor
of any newspaper that published matter deemed to constitute an incitement to rebellion.
However, the most significant day in the history of Media Regulations was the 26th of
January 1950 . the day on which the Constitution was brought into force. The colonial
experience of the Indians made them realise the crucial significance of the .Freedom of
Press.. Such freedom was therefore incorporated in the Constitution; to empower the
Press to disseminate knowledge to the masses and the Constituent Assembly thus,
decided to safeguard this .Freedom of Press. as a fundamental right. Although, the Indian
Constitution does not expressly mention the liberty of the press, it is evident that the
liberty of the press is included in the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19
(1)(a). It is however pertinent to mention that, such freedom is not absolute but is
qualified by certain clearly defined limitations under Article 19(2) in the interests of the
It is necessary to mention here that, this freedom under Article 19(1)(a) is not only
cribbed, cabined and confined to newspapers and periodicals but also includes pamphlets,
leaflets, handbills, circulars and every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of
information and opinion:
Thus, although the freedom of the press is guaranteed as a fundamental right, it is
necessary for us to deal with the various laws governing the different areas of media so as
to appreciate the vast expanse of media laws.
Regulations in print media
The Freedom Of Press and the Freedom Of Expression can be regarded as the very basis
of a democratic form of government. Every business enterprise is involved in the laws of
the nation, the state and the community in which it operates. Newspaper publishers find
themselves more .hemmed in. by legal restrictions than many other businesses do .
despite the fact that the freedom of press is protected by the Indian constitution. The
various Acts, which have to be taken into consideration when dealing with the
regulations imposed upon the Print Media, are:
_ The Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 . This Act regulates printing presses
and newspapers and makes registration with an appointed Authority compulsory for all
_ _The Press (Objectionable Matters) Act, 1951 . This enactment provides against the
printing and publication of incitement to crime and other objectionable matters.
_ _The Newspaper (Prices and Pages) Act, 1956 . This statute empowers the Central
Government to regulate the price of newspapers in relation to the number of pages and
size and also to regulate the allocation of space to be allowed for advertising matter.
Regulations in broadcasting
The broadcast media was under complete monopoly of the Government of India. Private
organizations were involved only in commercial advertising and sponsorships of
programmes. However, in Secretary, Ministry of I&B v. CAB1, the Supreme Court clearly
differed from the aforementioned monopolistic approach and emphasized that, every
citizen has a right to telecast and broadcast to the viewers/listeners any important event
through electronic media, television or radio and also provided that the Government had
no monopoly over such electronic media as such monopolistic power of the Government
was not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution or in any other law prevailing in the
This judgment, thus, brought about a great change in the position prevailing in the
broadcast media, and such sector became open to the citizens.
1 (1995) 2 SCC 161
Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 basically regulates the operation of
Cable Television in the territory of India and regulates the subscription rates and the total
number of total subscribers receiving programmes transmitted in the basic tier. In
pursuance of the Cable Television Network (Regulation) (Amendment) Bill, 2002, the
Central Government may make it obligatory for every cable operator to transmit or
retransmit programme of any pay channel through an addressable system as and when the
Central Government so notifies. Such notification may also specify the number of free to
air channels to be included in the package of channels forming the basic service tier
film . India is one of the largest producers of motion pictures in the world.
Encompassing three major spheres of activity . production, distribution and exhibition,
the industry has an all-India spread, employing thousands of people and entertaining
millions each year. The various laws in force regulating the making and screening of
films are: –
The Cinematograph Act, 1952 . The Cinematograph Act of 1952 has been passed to
make provisions for a certification of cinematographed films for exhibitions by means of
Cinematograph. Under this Act, a Board of Film Censors (now renamed Central Board
of Film Certification) with advisory panels at regional centres is empowered to examine
every film and sanction it whether for unrestricted exhibition or for exhibition restricted
to adults. The Board is also empowered to refuse to sanction a film for public exhibition.
In K. A. Abbas v. Union of India, the petitioner for the first time challenged the validity of
censorship as violative of his fundamental right of speech and expression. The Supreme
Court however observed that, pre-censorship of films under the Cinematograph Act was
justified under Article 19(2) on the ground that films have to be treated separately from
other forms of art and expression because a motion picture was able to stir up emotion
more deeply and thus, classification of films between two categories .A. (for adults only)
and .U. (for all) was brought about2.
2 AIR 1971 SC 481
Advertising communication is a mix of arts and facts subservient to ethical principles. In
order to be consumer-oriented, advertisement will have to be truthful and ethical. It
should not mislead the consumer. If it so happens, the credibility is lost.
In order to enforce an ethical regulating code, the Advertising Standards Council of India
was set up. Inspired by a similar code of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) UK,
ASCI follows the following basic guidelines in order to achieve the acceptance of fair
advertising practices in the interest of the consumer: –
· To ensure the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made by
advertisements and to safe guard against misleading advertising;
· To ensure that advertisement are not offensive to generally accepted standards of public
· To safeguard against indiscriminate use of advertising for promotion of products which
are regarded as hazardous to society or to individuals to a degree or of a type which is
unacceptable to society at large; and
· To ensure that advertisements observe fairness in competition so that the consumers
need to be informed on choices in the market places and canons of generally accepted
competitive behaviour in business are both served.
Media laws and its relation to the Rights of the Women
Media Law has its applicability in ensuring and preserving the rights of the women.
Media has been regulated with regard to its right in publishing and broadcasting by
enacting the media laws. These laws have a direct impetus to the protection of women.s
rights. Media Laws through its enactments regulating the print media takes away from the
press the absolute power vested in them previously. Media laws protect the women.s
right by preventing the print media from publishing articles and journals that goes
detrimental to the interest of the women folk and intrude their privacy.
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