Lok Sabha clears bill to ease newspaper registration

Hindustan Times, December 22, 2023

The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the Press and Registration of Periodicals (PRP) Bill, 2023, through a voice vote after a two-and-a-half-hour debate in the absence of most, if not all, Opposition members. The Bill simplifies and digitises the process of registering newspapers and other periodicals with the Press Registrar, sets up an appellate board to deal with issues related to registration, and decriminalises all but one offence.

*Union minister Anurag Thakur said the Bill aims to shed the colonial mindset and bring a new law for a new India (PTI)
*Union minister Anurag Thakur said the Bill aims to shed the colonial mindset and bring a new law for a new India (PTI)

The PRP Bill will replace the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, which required newspapers, magazines, and books to be registered with the government. The BJP-led government and the previous Congress-led government had made multiple attempts to replace the colonial-era act. The Congress government introduced a bill in 2011 but it was not passed.

“Continuing the tradition of getting rid of colonial-era laws, I present before you the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023. This Bill aims to shed the colonial mindset and bring a new law for a new India. In 1867, India was colonised and the British believed that they must control the press. Registration was a big challenge. Setting up a printing press, becoming a publisher were big things. The district magistrate had a huge role. This was a complex system that had eight steps,” minister of information & broadcasting Anurag Thakur said as he introduced the Bill in the Lower House.

The Rajya Sabha had passed the bill on August 3.

Under the PRP Bill, anybody who is convicted of a terrorist or unlawful activity [as defined under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967], or of acting against national security, is not allowed to release a periodical. The Press Registrar General of India, appointed by the central government, will be responsible for registering periodicals (which include newspapers and magazines, but not academic journals) after receiving an online application from interested entities.

“It will no longer take 2-3 years to get registration done. It will take only two months now to get permission for your newspaper. This is simple, smart and simultaneous,” Thakur said.

“Earlier, you had to go to the district magistrate first and then the Registrar General. Now, you can go to the DM and the registrar general simultaneously. And if the DM doesn’t respond in 60 days, we won’t wait for it. The RNI [PRG] will directly give you the permission,” he added. “In this Bill, we have decriminalised all offences except one,” Thakur said.

Under the Bill, if a periodical is published without obtaining a certificate of registration from PRG, it can impose a financial penalty of up to ₹5 lakh and order the publisher to stop publishing. If the publisher continues to publish despite the order, they can be jailed for up to six months.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) had earlier expressed concerns about some of its “draconian provisions”. “The new bill in fact widens the powers of the State to have more intrusive and arbitrary checks into the functioning of newspapers and magazines than the existing law had,” the organisation said. The BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab and AIMIM’s Imtiyaz Jaleel raised the issues highlighted by the EGI. “This bill is less about registration and more about regulation, controlling the press,” Jaleel said. The bill is now awaiting presidential assent.

Thakur also spoke on the freedom of press and safeguarding of journalists, saying both are a priority of the Narendra Modi government. He made this remark in response to a question regarding policy frameworks for the protection of journalists raised by TMC MP Dola Sen.

“…the original question was raised by an honorable MP from West Bengal…I was a little hesitant in saying this because I didn’t want to mention any states, but so many incidents have happened there… in West Bengal… violent incidents took place against journalists,” he said.

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