Regulating News on Digital Platforms
General Studies 2
In News: The Information & Broadcasting Ministry has proposed to introduce a new set of regulations to replace the archaic Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act, 1867 that governs the registration of print and publishing industry in the country.
Through the draft Registration of Press and Periodicals (RPP) Bill, 2019, the Ministry has proposed to
- Bring digital media in the new registration regulations’ ambit,
- Do away with prosecution provisions of imprisonment of publishers
- Simplify implementation of the registration process through a newly-created Press Registrar General.
- It has therefore proposed to remove existing requirements of furnishing of declaration by publishers and printers before the District Magistrate and its subsequent authentication. The draft Bill states that, “publishers of news on digital media shall register themselves with the Registrar of Newspapers of India”.
- In addition, it is proposing a simple system of registration of e-papers. It defines news on digital media as the news in digitised format that can be transmitted over the internet, computer or mobile networks and includes text, audio, video and graphics.
However, it’s not clear whether the Bill applies only to web versions of print publications or to digital-only news sites as well
A. Confusion on the definition
Digital publishers immediately deemed the proposed Bill unnecessary and sought clarity on whether it applies only to the web versions such as e-papers of print publications or digital-only news sites as well. The confusion arises, as the word “publication” has been defined in the draft as “anything which is printed on paper and is meant for public distribution including periodicals, newspapers and books”.
It is important to know if these regulations would be extended to digital media such as blogs, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and, basically, anybody who expresses an opinion on current affairs online.
B. Attack on the Freedom
Others see this as an attack on the freedom of the internet and digital-only news websites. These, they argue, have anyway always adhered to Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression while being governed by other applicable laws that maintain public order, decency, and morality.
The bill proposes cancellation of such registration, if, among other reasons, the “publisher” is found to be convicted of any “terrorist act” or “unlawful activity”, or for doing anything against the “security of the state”.
The bill doesn’t spell out how grave an offence must be to come under the ambit of “unlawful activity” or jeopardising the “security of the state”.
Registrar of Newspapers is a statutory body of the information and broadcasting ministry of the government of India, for the registration of publications such as newspapers and magazines, which regulates and monitors their printing and publication based on the PRB Act and the Registration of Newspapers (Central) Rules, 1956.
In August, the Union cabinet had approved 26% foreign direct investment (FDI) in digital media, a move that was seen as restrictive by media industry experts as until then there was no clarity on FDI in digital news websites and there have been several in India with 100% foreign investment.
Connecting the Dots:
- A digitally empowered India must also be digitally secure. Examine in the light of the emerging threats to the digital ecosystem.
- What is the ‘fake news’ phenomenon? Does it pose a security threat to the country? Examine.
- What are the threats associated with the unregulated growth of Social Media? Examine. Also discuss the ways in which Social Media should be regulated to thwart the security challenges posed by its burgeoning growth in India.
- Critically evaluate the efficacy of the existing legal, institutional and structural safeguards to protect the cyber ecosystem in India.