The ministry of information and broadcasting has put out the draft Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill, 2019. 

It seeks to replace the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867 that governs the print and publishing industry at present in the country.

The Press And Registration Of Books Act, 1867 

  • The PRB act was first enacted in British India. It was a regulatory law. It enabled the Government to regulate printing presses and newspapers by a system of registration.
  • It also enabled to preserve copies of books and other matter printed in India. 
  • Major amendments were carried out in 1955 following the recommendations of the First Press Commission in 1953.
  • This amendment led the creation of the Office of the Registrar of Newspapers of India (RNI) in 1956.

Exiting regulatory provisions related to Digital Media -

  • Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to reasonable restrictions. 
  • The social media platforms come under the purview of the Information Technology (IT) Act
  • The ‘intermediaries guidelines’ were notified under the IT Act in 2011 and the Indian Penal Code.
  • Framework & Guidelines for Use of Social Media for Government Organisations by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  • Social media channels are required to take down content if they are directed by a court or law enforcement agencies in India.
  • Reporting mechanisms on digital media platforms -  The platforms exercise discretion to ascertain whether a reported post is violating community guidelines and if that needs to be removed. 

Need for the regulation of Digital medial and amendment to the PRB Act -

  • The penetration of internet to the far-flung areas of India has ensured easy and on-demand availability of Social media and blogging websites. 
  • The existing PRB act does not include the regulation related to digital media.
  • Easy availability of Open-source software - It leads to various misuses of soft-content like Morph Image, Cloning of Data.
  • Misuse of copyrights - Digital Contents are not yet recognized as the Intellectual property of the Content owner by Indian regulatory body. 
  • Data localization - Only transactional data are localized in the Indian server. Other data - like a text from blogs, images shared on social media and short video, etc are yet to be stored locally.
  • Without a proper regulatory mechanism, it is difficult to find the source of the forwarded text, image, GIF or video.
  • Data from other locations are used to radicalize the youth for being involved in terror activities
  • Online harassment and threats are occurring more frequently.
  • Scattered provisions across the regulations and acts lead to chaos among law enforcement agencies. 

Salient features of the draft “Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill, 2019”

  • To remove the existing provisions relating to registration of Books and matters connected thereto.
  • To do away with the existing procedure of furnishing of a declaration by publishers/ printers before the District Magistrate and its subsequent authentication.
  • The process of title and registration of periodicals including newspapers is proposed to be effected centrally by the Press Registrar General as a simultaneous process.
  • It enables the Central Government and the State Government to frame appropriate rules/ regulations to regulate the criteria/conditions for issuing Government advertisements in newspapers, accreditation of newspapers and such other facilities for newspapers.
  • To have a simple system of registration of e-papers.
  • To do away with the earlier provision under the PRB Act, 1867 of prosecution of publishers.

Concern raised by different stakeholders –

  • Digital publishers - There is no clarity on whether it applies only to the web versions such as e-papers of print publications or digital-only news sites as well.
  • The confusion related to defining the word “publication" – It has been defined as “anything which is printed on paper and is meant for public distribution including periodicals, newspapers, and books".
  • Freelancing publishers – They see the draft as an attack on the freedom of the internet and digital-only news websites.
  • It traps digital media to unnecessary regulations which are otherwise always adhered to Article 19 of the Constitution. 
  • It is not clear that these regulations would be extended to digital media such as blogs, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. 
  • The applicability of regulation on anybody who expresses an opinion on current affairs online is not clear
  • Though the Union cabinet had approved 26% foreign direct investment (FDI) in digital media. There was no clarity on FDI in digital news websites.

Growing network of digital media in day-to-day life has necessitated its regulation. Though the bill is in draft stage, it must be discussed in both the house of parliament thoroughly. The bill should accommodate the concerns raised by various stakeholders.