The Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956

The Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956 (Act No. 45 of 1956) was enacted to have regulation of the prices charges for newspapers relating to their pages, to prevent unfair competition among the newspaper. This Act was enacted, further, with the view to extent apply the provisions thereof to whole of India however, not to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The Section 1 of the Act deals with short title, extension and duration of this Act, wherein sub section (3) was clarifying the fact that, the provision of this Act was intended to remain under force for only period of 5 years, however, the sub section was omitted by The Newspaper (Price and Page) Continuance Act, 1961 (Act no. 36 of 1961). This Act of 1961 was enacted to provide for indefinite continuation of the Act of 1956.

And Section 2 is important so far as it is related to the meaning of the various terms used under various provisions of this Act. As such Section 2 defines two important terms viz. Daily Newspaper and Newspaper. So far as first term ‘daily newspaper’ is concerned, it is provided with the meaning that it means such newspaper published every days in the week and also includes the supplement of special edition thereof. Similarly, the second important term is ‘Newspaper’ as denied under the Act means document containing public news or comments thereof and published periodically but the gap of such period should not be more than a week.

Section 3 is important so far as it is relating to regulation of prices and pages of newspapers, etc. The Central Government is empowered under this provision to make an order providing for regulation of prices charged for newspapers in relation to their maximum or minimum number of pages, size or areas and for the space to be allotted for advertising matter. Such regulations are to be provided by the Central Government with the view to prevent unfair competition among newspapers in order to allow the newspapers to enjoy freedom of expression. Such orders by the Central Government as to regulation, can be made by it either for any particular group of newspapers or for all groups generally and also such orders can also be made with any condition for any period of time and can also provide for supplementary matters, etc. as the Central Government decides in this behalf. Moreover, such orders should follow the need for reasonable flexibility with reference to fall of news, advertisements flow, etc.  However, the sub Section (4) of the section requires the Central Government to first consult with Associations of Publishers of Newspapers, prior to making of such order under this provision.

The order under Section 3 is very important and as such the contravention or breach of such order is prohibited under Section 4 of the Act. Section 4 of the makes provisions as to prohibition of selling or even publishing of newspaper being under subjected to such order made by the Central Government under Section 3 of the Act.

Similarly, the compliance of order is secured under section 5 of the Act, wherein the Press Registrar is to be appointed under the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 for directing publishers of such newspaper being subjected to such order, that to furnish weekly returns and statistics regarding particulars mentioned under Section 3.

Further, the another important provision i.e. penal provision contained under Section 6 of the Act, providing punishment for breach of provisions of Section 4 of the Act to the publisher of Newspaper. The punishment under this Section is to be extended with fine up to rupees 1000 and for subsequent commission of such breach will entail subjection of penalty up to rupees 2000. Similarly, the breach of provisions of Section 5 is also entailing penal liability. If publisher of newspaper is required to furnish returns under that provisions and the publisher is refusing or neglecting to comply such directions, similarly, if he is furnishing false weekly returns, then such publisher is to be punished by way of imposing on him fine extending up to rupees 500. Moreover, the last important provision is relating to taking cognizance of matter under this Act. Under this provisions it is required that on the written complaint made by Press Registrar only the Court should take cognizance of the offence declared punishable under this Act.

However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its landmark judgment, pronounced in Sakal Papers Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India, [AIR 1962 SC 305], while deciding the constitutional validity of the provisions of this Act, struck down the main provision of the Act i.e. Section 3 of the Act as violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

The interim report No. 248 dated 12th September, 2014 of 20th Law Commission of India, in pursuance to the study undertaken by it on ‘The Legal Enactments: Simplification and Streamlining’, the commission had recommended the repealing of this Act of 1956 due to the reason that, Supreme Court had struck down the main provision i.e. section 3 of the Act and as such no fresh order could be made and thus, the Act remained meaningless. Similarly, the Act of 1961 was also recommended for repealing by this Commission, by the reason of original Act is repealing.

by Faim Khalilkhan Pathan