New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India on Sunday (August 6) expressed concerns over “draconian provisions” in the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023 and urged the Lok Sabha Speaker to refer it to a Parliamentary Select Committee.
The Bill, meant to replace the existing Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 (PRB), was passed in the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote on Thursday (August 3) in the Opposition’s absence.
In its press release, the Editors Guild said that the new legislation “widens the powers of the state to have more intrusive and arbitrary checks” in how a publication functions, adding that some of the provisions were “vague” and the ambiguity could have “adverse implications on press freedom”.
The statement said that the new Bill allows government agencies other than the press registrar to conduct its functions, which could even include police and other law enforcement agencies, and called the move “deeply distressing”.
The journalists’ body pointed out that Sections 4(1) and 11(4) of the Bill allow the government to deny the right to bring out a periodical, to persons convicted of “terrorist act or unlawful activity” or “for having done anything against the security of the State”.
“Given the liberal and arbitrary use of UAPA, as well as other criminal laws, including Sedition, against journalists and media organisations to suppress freedom of speech, the Guild is deeply concerned by the introduction of these new provisions, and the way they can be misused to deny the right to bring out news publications to persons who are critical of governments,” the statement said.
It also criticised the continuation of the government’s power to enter premises of news organisations, calling it “excessively intrusive”.
Section 19 of the Bill gives the Union government powers to frame rules under which news publishing is to be done in India. The statement cited the example of IT Rules 2021, and the latest amendments made to it regarding “setting up of a ‘fact checking unit’ with sweeping powers to order content take down” and urged that such rules be clearly defined in the act and not be left to the discretion of a future government or authority.
The Guild said that emphasis of the registrar and the Bill should remain on ‘registration’ and not ‘regulation’, as the latter could potentially restrict press freedom.
The statement was signed by president Seema Mustafa, general secretary Anant Nath, and treasurer Shriram Pawar.