The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is hosting a consultation for a law that will regulate print and digital media, and seeks to replace the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867.

Called the Registration of Press and Periodicals (RPP) Bill, 2019, the draft bill is up for consultation, and you may mail suggestions by December 25, 2019 to jspna-moib@nic.in.

Defining news digital media

This bill comes shortly after the cabinet approved a regressive plan to reduce foreign direct investment in news digital media from 100% to 26%, where it didn’t define exactly what news digital media is. Although this particular bill should provide some clarity, in its current form, it doesn’t.

It doesn’t even define what news is. It’s also not clear as to which types of digital media entities will have to register with the government. Section 18 of the bill (in Part VIII) states:

REGISTRATION OF PUBLISHERS OF NEWS ON DIGITAL MEDIA

18. The publishers of news on Digital Media shall register themselves with the Registrar of Newspapers of India in such manner and giving such particulars as may be prescribed.

There are two possible interpretations of this Section:
a. Everyone will have to register: “News on Digital Media” is defined as:

(k) “news on digital media” is the news in digitized format that can be transmitted over the internet, computer or mobile networks and includes text, audio, video and graphics;

If you go by this definition (which I refer to as the k+18 option), any entity — including users posting news updates on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, reddit, or even running their own blogs, or even professional blogs — with news updates will have to register with the Registrar of Newspapers. There are hundreds of thousands (mild exaggeration) ofnews blogs operating in India, many of which break important stories. There are also YouTube channels with news updates. They’ll all have to register with the RNI (Registrar of Newspapers of India).

b. Only print publishers will have to register: as indicated by the definition of publishers, which is as per three linked definitions:

(s) “publication” means anything which is printed on paper and is meant for public distribution including periodicals, newspapers & books.
(t) “publish” means the process of making a work available to the public in the form of issuing copies;
(u) “publisher” means a person authorized in this regard to publish any publication;

Thus, if you go by this definition (which I refer to as the s+t+u+18 option), registration is required by any publication which publishes content online.

How will this impact global news sites being viewed in India?

The Bill doesn’t take into consideration international content being viewed in India online, and it can be considered in two ways: firstly, that as per point (a) above (everyone will have to register), every online news publication in the world will indeed have to register in India (and have an Indian editor).

The other option is to consider point (b) above (only print publishers will have to register), and a facsimile edition of foreign publications. As per the bill:

A “facsimile edition” of a publication means an exact replica in full or in part of the original edition of a foreign publication in so far as the content is concerned , subject to the condition that any page is not published in part”

Does this come into play only if facsimile editions of international newspapers are being printed and distributed in India?

How are periodicals regulated?

As per the bill, a ‘“periodical” means any publication including newspaper, which is published and printed at regular intervals and contain write-ups on general or specialized subjects’. This could thus includes specialised publications including blogs and YouTube channels.

A periodical will have to “… obtain a certificate of registration from the Press Registrar General by making an application in such manner, by furnishing such documents, setting forth such particulars and payment of such fee as may be prescribed”.

A bit odd

The Bill contains definitions which find no further mention in the rest of the document. For example:

  • “facsimile edition” of a publication means an exact replica in full or in part of the original edition of a foreign publication in so far as the content is concerned , subject to the condition that any page is not published in part
  • “foreign periodical” means any periodical published and printed in a country outside India
  • “journal” means a periodical publication, other than a magazine, which carries content related to a particular subject or professional activity
  • “new edition” means another version of the existing newspaper with a change in the content or language or periodicity

Edit: An earlier version of this story mentioned the incorrect deadline for submission of comments. MediaNama regrets the error.