Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023 | 27 Dec 2023

For Prelims: Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, Metcalfe Act, Licensing Regulations by John Adams, Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023 .

For Mains: Press Regulation in India, Key Features of Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023

Source: PIB

Why in News?

Recently, the Lok Sabha passed the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023, repealing the colonial era law of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867.

  • The Bill has already been passed by Rajya Sabha in August 2023.

What are the Key Features of Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023?

  • Registration of Periodicals: The Bill provides for the registration of periodicals, which include any publication containing public news or comments on public news.
    • Periodicals do not include books or scientific and academic journals.
      • Whereas, the act provides for the registration of newspapers, periodicals, and books. It also provided for the cataloguing of books.
    • Books have been taken away from the purview of the bill, as books as a subject are administered by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development.
  • Registration Protocols for Publications: The Bill enables periodical publishers to register online via the Press Registrar General and specified local authority.
    • Also, Publishing a periodical is prohibited for individuals convicted of terrorism or actions against state security.
    • Whereas, the act mandated a declaration to the District Magistrate, who sent it to the Press Registrar for newspaper publication.
  • Foreign Periodicals: Reproduction of foreign periodicals within India necessitates prior approval from the central government. Specific protocols for registering such periodicals will be outlined.
  • Press Registrar General: This Bill introduces the role of the Press Registrar General of India, responsible for issuing registration certificates for all periodicals.
    • Additionally, their duties encompass maintaining a periodical register, establishing guidelines for periodical titles, verifying circulation figures, and managing registration revisions, suspensions, or cancellations.
  • Printing Press Registration: Declarations regarding printing presses can now be submitted online to the Press Registrar General, deviating from the previous requirement of declarations made before the District Magistrate.
  • Suspension and Cancellation of Registration: The Press Registrar General holds authority to suspend a periodical's registration for a minimum of 30 days (extensible up to 180 days) due to various reasons including furnishing false information, discontinuity in publication, or providing inaccurate annual statements.
    • Failure to rectify these issues could result in registration cancellation.
    • Further grounds for cancellation include similarity in titles with other periodicals or convictions related to terrorism or acts against national security by the owner/publisher.
  • Penalties and Appeals: The Bill empowers the Press Registrar General to levy penalties for unregistered periodical publication or failure to furnish annual statements within specified timelines.
    • Non-compliance with these directives may lead to imprisonment for up to six months.
    • Additionally, provisions for appeals against refusal of registration certificates, suspension/cancellation of registration, or imposed penalties are available, with a 60-day window to file appeals before the Press and Registration Appellate Board.

What are the other Pre-Independence Legislations Related to Press Regulation?

  • Censorship under Lord Wellesley (1799): Enacted due to French invasion fears, imposing strict wartime press controls, including pre-censorship.
    • Relaxed later by Lord Hastings in 1818, removing pre-censorship.
  • Licensing Regulations by John Adams (1823): Instituted penalties for starting or operating a press without a license, later extended to cover various publications.
    • Primarily targeted Indian language newspapers or those led by Indians, leading to the cessation of Rammohan Roy’s Mirat-ul-Akbar.
  • Press Act of 1835 (Metcalfe Act): Repealed the restrictive 1823 ordinance, earning Metcalfe the title "Liberator of the Indian press."
    • Mandated precise declarations by printers/publishers about their premises and allowed cessation as required.
  • Licensing Act during the 1857 Revolt: Imposed further licensing restrictions due to the 1857 emergency.
    • Augmented existing registration procedures, granting the government power to halt the circulation of any printed material.
  • Vernacular Press Act, 1878: Designed to regulate the vernacular press, suppress seditious writing, and prevent discord among different communities.
    • Required printers and publishers of vernacular newspapers to sign a bond refraining from disseminating anti-government or divisive content.
    • Decisions made by the magistrate were final without any avenue for appeal in court.
  • Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908: Empowered magistrates to seize press properties publishing objectionable content inciting violence or murder.
    • Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a militant nationalist leader, faced sedition charges and was transported to Mandalay, sparking widespread protests and strikes.
  • Indian Press Act, 1910: Local governments could demand security at registration, penalize offending newspapers, and require free copies for scrutiny.
    • Impeded press freedom by imposing stringent regulations similar to those in the Vernacular Press Act.