In a move that is supposed to abet protectiomism and regulate the press freedom, the Union Cabinet passed the amendments to the Press and Registration of Books Act,1867. The proposed legislation, which has already done the rounds of various concerned ministries is currently being scrutinised by the law ministry. The main purpose of the act is to limit the foreign content(syndication) and bar terror convicts from bringing out any publication. The proposed law, among other things, also makes it mandatory for an editor of a publication or a newspaper to be a citizien of India. The legislation is expected to be tabled in the Budget Session of the Parliament. The Act will hold good for both traditional and new media, which makes it an important attribute of internet freedom, once it comes into force.
The name of the act is to be revised to Press and Registration of Books and Publications Act(PRBP) and the Press Registrar is to be called as the Press Registrar General. According to a suggesgtion made by Information and Broadcasting Ministry, publication will also include electronic media, more pertinent to films and documentaries.To be more precise, it means reproduction of publications, stored in media, magnetic, optical computer memory, micro film, computer generated micro fiche or similar device or in the world wide web. New definitions have been put forward for 'editor', 'newspaper', 'publication', 'journals' and 'newsletter'.
There is also a provision for making mandatory the circulation verification and filing of annual statements by publishers. There are punishments ranging from banning the newspaper to thirty days to cancelling their licences. Cancellation of licences will only take place, if the publisher fails to file the annual statements for three consecutive years. For Title verification, the publications has to be a legal entity registered under Indian legislation, or a citizen of India in case of an individual. Minors, persons of unsound mind; insolvents; persons convicted for a cognizable offence; and persons not Ordinarily Resident in India won't be legally allowed to bring out their publication or newspapers. The owner of any proposed publication may propose one or more titles in the order of preference but not in excess of five titles. The citizen of India who intends to bring out a publication and who is also the owner, then shall make an application to the Magistrate in the prescribed form, accompanied by a nominal fee for his request to be processed.The Magistrate will recommend or reject the application within a period of 3 months. Titles which match other publications, are obscene, similar to symbols of terrorist organizations will not be registered.
There are also provisons in the amended Act to regulate the foreign content or syndication, and foreign investment in a publication. Foreign investments are to be limited by laws prescribed by the investing country for such purpose and 'fascimile edition' or replica of foreign newpaper or publication with minor changes, can be printed after getting sanctioned by GOI.
Whenever any owner or printer or publisher prints or publishes any publication that do not conform to the Act and the Rules made under this Act, he/she shall be liable for penalties ranging from suspension of the publication for a period up to 30 days or a fine of up to Rs. 5000 (five thousand) or both for first offence to cancellation of registration or a fine of up to Rs. 50000 (Fifty thousand) or both for third offence.
The Government is being blamed by various stakeholders for not taking into account their interests and objections, although it invited their suggesgtions and recommendations. Meanwhile, the Association of Indian Magazines(AIM), at their meeting came down heavily on the Government. Paresh Nath, Editor & Publisher, Delhi Press, said, “The proposed amendment by the Government is unnecessary. The old Act was working well during the British reign and after independence also it had been satisfying so far. The industry doesn’t need any amendment which will restrict the fundamental right to freedom of expression in any way.”
INS president Kundan R Vyas, who maintained that the purpose of legislation ought to be to remove anomalies, charged that some of the provisions were still draconian and violative of the Constitution. Vyas urged Soni to take a serious view on concerns of the industry and initiate consulations with the industry. “The suspension of a publication is too wide a power to be granted to a magistrate or even Press Registrar. Any provision that causes cessation of a publication has no place in democracy and is violative of the right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” he said.