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.

Article 2

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.

Criminal Justice

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

governing them.

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

printing presses.

_ _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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