Regulators

Draft bill proposes to regulate digital news media

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MUMBAI: The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) has proposed changes to the archaic, colonial-era Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867, which will make it mandatory for digital news sites to register themselves with the Registrar of Newspapers of India in “such manner and giving such particulars as may be prescribed”.

Section 18 of the provisions of the draft Registration of Press and Periodical (RPP) Bill, 2019 – released by the MIB for consultations – stipulates: “The publishers of news on Digital Media shall register themselves with the Registrar of Newspapers of India in such manner and giving such particulars as may be prescribed.”

The draft bill, if accepted, will bring digital news under the gambit of regulation as currently no news website in India has to “register” with the government or follow any regulations other than what are normally applicable for any form of speech or expression.

The bill defines news on digital media as "news in digitised format that can be transmitted over the internet, computer or mobile networks and includes text, audio, video and graphics".

Notably, this is the second attempt by the Narendera Modi government to bring, hitherto, freewheeling digital news media under some sort of regulation. Earlier in August, the Union cabinet said it was introducing a 26 per cent cap on foreign direct investment for news websites subjecting to official approval on a case by case basis.

Rules for government advertisement

Besides, the draft bill would enable the central and the state governments to frame appropriate rules and regulations to regulate the criteria and conditions for issuing government advertisements in newspapers, accreditation of newspapers and such other facilities for newspapers.

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, the draft bill says.

Editors to be Indian citizens

The bill also makes it mandatory for editors to be Indian citizens. It defines editor as “an individual, whether called editor, chief editor, group editor or editor-in-chief or by any other name called, being a citizen of India and is ordinarily resident in India responsible for the selection and finalization of the content of a periodical".

Ban on persons who have “done anything against the security of the state”

Another notable feature in the draft bill, that is raising some concerns, is that the bill enables the government to ban any individual who have “done anything against the security of the state” from bringing any publication. As such, the phrase “done anything against the security of the state” is ambiguous and open-ended.

The ministry has sought comments on the draft bill, released earlier this week, from stakeholders over the next 30 days.

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