The Editors Guild is “deeply concerned” by some of the “draconian provisions” of the , which was passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 3.
In a statement issued yesterday, the guild said the Bill “widens the powers of the state to have more intrusive and arbitrary checks into the functioning of newspapers and magazines”.
The Bill will replace the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867. Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said it would lead to ease of doing business and simplify the registration process for periodicals. He also that those “involved in terrorist activities or unlawful activities against the state will not be granted permission to start a paper or periodical”.
The guild accordingly flagged four primary concerns with the Bill: expansion of power beyond press registrar, denial and cancellations of registrations to those convicted for “unlawful activity”, power to enter premises of press organisations, and concerns on power to frame rules.
“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 the government.”
The statement said Section 19 of the Bill gives the central government “powers to frame rules and guidelines under which news publishing is to be done in India”.
“It has been seen time and again that the power to frame rules under various acts has been used in arbitrary as well as excessively intrusive manner,” the guild said. “...Therefore, for the sake of preserving freedom of press, it is submitted that all such rules be clearly defined within the act, and there be no provisions be left to the discretion of a future government or a government authority.”
It also flagged the “intrusive, expansive and vague nature of powers” that the Bill allows to the press registrar, calling it “deeply distressing”.
The guild urged the Lok Sabha speaker to refer the Bill to a parliamentary select committee “to allow a deep discussion on the issues that are crucial for press freedom”.
Newslaundry had reported at length on the proposed Bill in 2019 when the government had invited public comments on it. Read all about it here.