The Union Cabinet approved the Press and Registration of Books & Publications Bill on 10/2/2011. In response, the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) has made certain observations that the proposed Bill was cleared ‘without any proper consultation’ and that it ‘contains a Section providing “penalty’ which is draconian’.
In this regard, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting would like to clarify that the proposal to amend the Press & Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867 was mooted as far back as 2005. Representation and comments were received, among others, from Indian Newspaper Society (INS) on the proposed amendments and a meeting was also held with the representatives of INS in September, 2005 to discuss the draft amendments. Discussions were also held with various newspaper associations in April, 2006 on the draft amendments to the Act.
Subsequently, in 2010 the Ministry decided to once again invite suggestions/comments from key stakeholders on the proposed amendments to the PRB Act, 1867 in view of the issues raised by the concerned stakeholders. The draft amendments to the Act was put on the Websites of the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI) and the Ministry and Broadcasting on 19th February, 2010. The stakeholders were asked to submit their comments latest by 3rd March, 2010 to the Office of the RNI. Besides this, RNI also wrote to various newspaper associations inviting suggestions on the proposed amendments. In fact, on the request of INS, the last date of receipt of comments was extended till 10th March, 2010.
RNI received suggestions/comments from various stakeholders including the Indian Newspaper Society as well as Indian Language Newspapers Association, Times of India, , Financial Times, Indian Express, Sage Publications, HT Media, Association of Indian Magazines etc. Some comments, which were received much after the last date of receipt of comments, were also taken into consideration. Besides this, the proposed amendments were also discussed in the State Information Ministers’ Conference on 5th December 2009. The various comments thus received from various stakeholders were examined by the Ministry in consultation with RNI and suitable suggestions were incorporated in the draft amendments to the PRB Act, 1867.
The final draft of the proposed amendments was also sent to the Press Council of India (PCI) in December, 2010 for their comments. Press Council of India, which has representatives from all key stakeholders, sent their comments in January 2011 after considering it in the Council meeting. These were also considered by the Ministry before the final Cabinet Note was moved for approval of the Cabinet. Thus it is evident that wide consultations were undertaken prior to placing the matter before the Cabinet for approval.
As regards the comment on the ‘draconian penalty’ clause in the Bill, it is clarified that the graded penalty cited by the INS, which was there in the earlier draft, has been removed from the present Bill. In reality, not only has the graded penalty been removed, but the penalty clause under the new Sections 12 and 13 have been liberalized by removing the provision of six months imprisonment in the existing Act and substituting it only with suspension of publication for a period of 30 days, which would act as a deterrent to non-serious publications.
Regarding the issue of ‘restriction on registration of names similar to foreign titles etc’., it is clarified that the INS in their letter dated 15/3/2010 had in fact considered this issue and suggested that the words ‘known’ used in the amendment needs to be explained as it is vague. This point was considered and in order to remove any vagueness, the proposed amendments provides for prescribing Rules to notify as to what are ‘known foreign publications’.