Urban India has witnessed replacement of newspapers and magazines with e-newspapers and e-magazines. Mobile apps and websites are the new source of news on digital platforms. Major news and broadcast companies have ventured into the digital media and news sector to benefit from this new age medium. The pandemic also fuelled the adoption rate of digital in India coupled with the high consumption of digital video. As of now, digital media is not regulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), however, voluntary registration could be undertaken with the MIB.
In an attempt to regulate digital media, on November 25th 2019, the MIB had introduced the draft Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill, 2019 (hereinafter referred to as the "RPP Bill 2019") for comments from the public. The RPP Bill 2019 was meant to replace the archaic Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867 which has been in place since the British Era. However, the RPP Bill 2019 received strong backlash from the public because of which the Centre did not proceed with the RPP Bill 2019. One of the primary concerns expressed by the digital sector was pertaining to the registration requirements for magazines and the lack of clarity on whether this would encompass anything printed on paper and disseminated online or other online news sharing platforms such as blogs. Recently, attempts to regulate digital media have been rekindled with the Registration of Press and Periodicals Bill, 2022 ("RPP Bill 2022") being one of the many bills purported to be introduced during the monsoon session of the Parliament.
The RPP Bill 2022 has been introduced with the main aim of regulation of the digital news media industry, in order to bring digital news portals at par with newspapers. The RPP Bill 2019 proposed registration of digital media and replacement of the old Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867.
KEY HIGHLIGHTS UNDER THE RPP BILL 2019 AND RPP BILL 2022
- The RPP Bill 2019 defined "News on Digital Media" as news in digitized format that can be transmitted over the internet, computer or mobiles networks and includes text, audio, video and graphics. It is clear that the present definition provided is quite broad and can be interpreted in a multitude ways, to include blogs and can even extend to social media posts. It will be interesting to see if the RPP Bill 2022 retains the scope of this definition.
- The RPP Bill 2022 is likely to consist of a larger vision of the government to bring unregulated digital platforms under a three-tier grievance redressal system. The RPP Bill 2022 would majorly impact the digital news sphere as digital media houses will be required to register themselves with the Press Registrar General. At the moment, no such registration is required for digital news sites.
- The proposed RPP Bill 2022 would enable the government to act against digital publications that are in violation and will empower the government to further impose penalties and suspend such digital publications.
- The RPP Bill 2019 permitted any person, either an entity incorporated and registered in India or an Indian citizen to bring out a publication, as long as they have not been convicted by a court for an offence involving terrorist act or unlawful activity and/or for having done anything against the security of the State.
- The RPP Bill 2019 proposed to do away with the existing procedure of furnishing of declaration by publishers/printers before the District Magistrate and its subsequent authentication.
- The RPP Bill 2019 also proposed removal of existing provisions pertaining to the registration of books and subsidiary matters, which if implemented, would free up the book publishing industry to a considerable degree.
- The RPP Bill 2019 also proposed a simple procedure for registration of e-papers and repealing an older clause in the PRB Act of 1867 dealing with prosecution of publishers.
- The RPP Bill 2019 also proposed enabling 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.
Effect of the Bill
It is incumbent that the RPP Bill 2022 will have a large standing effect on the entirety of the press and digital media industry. It can be said that many of the issues which were raised in relation to the RPP Bill 2019 continue to persist till date. Therefore, it will be imperative for the MIB to look into the issues and introduce legislation that will contribute to an ever growing industry.
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