The Rajya Sabha on 3 August passed the Press And Registration Of Periodicals Bill, 2023, which seeks to repeal the existing colonial-era Press and Registration of Books Act that governs the registration of print and publishing industry in the country.
The Union Cabinet had recently approved the PRP Bill – introduced in Rajya Sabha on August 1 – that seeks to simplify the registration process for periodicals and do away with the provision for prosecution and imprisonment of publishers. The Bill will be soon tabled in the Lok Sabha.
The three main goals of the Bill are “ease of doing business; removing unnecessary procedural obstacles for publishers; and unburdening the owners of printing presses and publishers from the onerous task of furnishing declaration before the district magistrate and filing of revised declaration every time there were any changes in its particulars”.
Information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur in a reply to the discussion on the bill said it will lead to ease of doing business for media and publishing companies, simplify the process of registration, and decriminalize several colonial-era penal provisions. He observed that the bill traverses the journey from bureaucratic burden to ease of doing business.
“Those involved in terrorist activities or unlawful activities against the state will not be granted permission to start a paper or periodical,” media reports quoting the minster said.
The new Bill does away with the need to file a declaration before the district magistrate and junks the penal provisions of the PRB Act that made the improper declaration of information a punishable offense with a prison term of up to six months.
The registration process will be time-bound, starting with an online application to be filed before the district magistrate and the Registrar of the Newspapers for India (RNI), news agency PTI reported.
“If DM replies within 60 days, then RNI would issue a license considering it or will go ahead even without that if no reply comes from within that time frame,” he said.
“Now you would not have to wait for two to three years but only for two months,” said Thakur, adding that it would help small media organizations and journalists.
The press registrar general can impose a penalty of up to ₹5 lakh for publishing periodicals without registration or failing to furnish annual statements within the specified time.
“The proposed legislation is based on the spirit of upholding media freedom and ease of doing business by making the entire process of allotment of title and registration of periodicals simple and simultaneous, through an online system without the requirement of any physical interface, which would be fast-tracked by the press registrar general, thereby ensuring that publishers, especially small and medium publishers, face little difficulty in starting a periodical. Importantly, the publishers would no longer be required to file a declaration with the district magistrate, or the local authorities, or get such declaration authenticated by such authorities. Furthermore, printing presses would also not be required to furnish any such declaration; instead, an intimation by the printer would be sufficient,” the Bill says.
Key features of the Bill as published on PRS Legislative Research
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.
Press registrar general: The Bill provides for the appointment of the press registrar general of India, who will issue registration certificates for all periodicals. Other functions of the press registrar general include: (i) maintaining a register of periodicals, (ii) making guidelines for the admissibility of title of periodicals, (iii) verifying circulation figures of prescribed periodicals, and (iv) revising, suspending, or canceling registration.
Registration of a printing press: The Bill allows for information regarding printing presses to be submitted to the press registrar general through an online portal. The old Act required a printing press to be declared before the DM.
Suspension and cancellation of registration: The Bill allows the press registrar general to suspend a periodical’s registration for a minimum period of 30 days, which can extend to 180 days. The registration may be suspended due to: (i) registration obtained by furnishing false information, (ii) failure to publish periodicals continuously, and (iii) giving false particulars in annual statements.
The press registrar general may cancel the registration if the publisher does not correct such anomalies. The registration may also be canceled if: (i) a periodical has the same or similar title as any other periodical, (ii) the owner/ publisher has been convicted of a terrorist act or unlawful activity, or for acting against the security of the state.
Penalties and appeal: The Bill empowers the press registrar general to impose penalties for: (i) publishing periodicals without registration (up to Rs 5 lakh), (ii) failing to furnish annual statement within the specified time (up to Rs 20,000 on first default). If a periodical is published without registration, the press registrar general may direct its publication to be stopped. Not complying with such direction within six months will be punishable with imprisonment of up to six months.
Any person may appeal against the refusal to issue a registration certificate, suspension/ cancellation of registration, or imposition of penalty before the Press and Registration Appellate Board within 60 days.
The full document can be accessed here.