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Modi govt’s new bill to regulate digital media too, has no punishment clause for paid news

The draft bill that I&B ministry has uploaded online for comments and suggestions has also removed provisions of prosecution for publishers.

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New Delhi: Two years after it was first drafted, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is all set to bring a bill that will give the government the power to regulate news websites, newspapers and the printing presses.

The draft bill — now called ‘Registration of Press and Periodicals (RPP) Bill, 2019 — will replace the archaic Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867, which currently regulates printing presses and newspapers.

The bill has been uploaded online for comments and suggestions from stakeholders.

A draft of the bill, earlier called ‘Registration of Newspapers and Publications Bill, 2017’, was ready two years ago but was put into cold storage by the I&B Ministry.

When Prakash Javadekar took charge as the I&B Minister in May this year, ThePrint had reported about the government’s plans to take this bill forward, among other policy measures.

Provision to punish publications for paid news removed

The draft bill largely has provisions borrowed from its earlier version — with some changes.

A provision proposed in the earlier version of the bill on punitive action on paid news by suspending a publication for 45 days or cancelling their registration by the press registrar general has been removed from the current draft.

There were strong objections from a section of the newspaper industry, opposing the clause on tackling paid news.

The draft bill also states that publishers of news websites will have to register with the Registrar of Newspapers for India, which functions under the I&B Ministry.

Other provisions of the draft bill

The draft bill significantly simplifies the registration process of a newspaper and proposes the appointment of a press registrar general and other officers by the central government.

It states that the existing procedure of furnishing of a declaration by publishers/printing presses before the district magistrate and its subsequent authentication will be done away with. The process of title and registration of periodicals and newspapers will be done centrally by the press registrar general, says the bill.

The bill also proposes to remove the existing provision of registration of books from its purview and lays down a simple system of registration of e-papers.

Prosecution provisions for publishers removed

“The bill proposes to do away with the earlier provision under the PRB Act, 1867, of prosecution of publishers,” the draft bill states.

The current PRB Act has provisions of imprisonment of up to six months for publishers for improper disclosure of information.

The draft bill empowers the press registrar general to suspend or cancel the Certificate of Registration if he is satisfied that the periodical is being published in contravention of the provisions of the Act or rules or if the registration was obtained on false representation or if the periodical mentioned in the Certificate of Registration bears a title, which is the same as that of any other periodical, published either in the same language or in the same state.

The press registrar general can also cancel the Certificate of Registration of a periodical if it has stopped publishing for a period exceeding 12 months from the date of last published issue and or if the publisher has given any wrong or false information in his application for registration or annual statement.

Registration can also be cancelled if a periodical has failed to furnish the annual statement within 12 months from the end of a financial year, or has been convicted by a court for an offence involving a terrorist act or unlawful activities. 

These could be on the basis of information received from the government or on the recommendations of the Press Council of India. 

The draft bill will also enable the central government and the state government to frame rules and regulations to regulate the criteria for issuing government advertisements in newspapers, accreditation of newspapers, among others.  

According to the draft bill, whoever owns, prints, publishes or edits any periodical without adhering to the relevant provisions would be punishable with a fine of up to Rs 50,000, and the registration of the periodical may be cancelled. 

The bill also states that starting a printing press without furnishing an intimation or by furnishing false information would invite fine and penal action.

Also read: I&B panel wants information service revamp — with double cadre strength, new media wings


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