New Delhi, Aug 6: The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has urged the Government to refer the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023 to a Parliamentary Select Committee to allow a deep discussion on the issues which are crucial for press freedom.
The Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur which is meant to replace the existing Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 (PRB).
In a statement jointly issued by issued by President EGI Seema Mustafa, General Secretary Anant Nath and Treasurer Shriram Pawar, the, EGI said though the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ mentions that the ‘proposed legislation is based on the spirit of upholding media freedom and ease of doing business’ in effect the new bill in fact widens the powers of the State to have more intrusive and arbitrary checks into the functioning of newspapers and magazines than the existing law had.
“The Guild is concerned about the expansion of powers of the Press Registrar, the new restrictions on citizens to bring out periodicals, the continuation of power to enter premises of news publications, the vagueness inherent in many of the provisions, and the ambiguity surrounding power to frame rules that can have adverse implications on press freedom,” the EGI statement reads.
The EGI, while highlighting their concerns, said that in the definitions section, the term ‘specified authority’ gives power to government agencies beyond the Press Registrar, to conduct the functions of the registrar, which could even include police and other law enforcement agencies.
“Given the intrusive, expansive, and vague nature of powers that the bill in any case allows to the Press Registrar, the power to further delegate this power to other government agencies including law enforcement agencies is deeply distressing,” the statement reads.
The Guild, as per the statement, has urged that only the Press Registrar should be the relevant authority for the purpose of this act and no other government agency should be given any powers with respect to registration of periodicals.
The EGI statement reads that the Sections 4(1) and 11(4), allow the Registrar to deny the right to bring out a periodical, and to cancel the certificate of registration of a periodical, to persons convicted of “terrorist act or unlawful activity”, or “for having done anything against the security of the State”.
“Interestingly, the PRB Act, 1867, had no such provisions. Given the liberal and arbitrary use of UAPA (which is the basis for defining “terrorist act” and “unlawful activity”), 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.
The EGI in a statement said that under section 6(b), the bill gives power to the Press Registrar, (as well as any other “specified authority”) to enter the premises of a periodical to “inspect or take copies of the relevant records or documents or ask any questions necessary for obtaining any information required to be furnished”.
“This authority to enter a press organisation is excessively intrusive and it is deeply concerning that while on one hand, in the Statement of Objects and Reasons it is claimed that the intention is to make the process less cumbersome for press organisations, but yet such powers are continued from the earlier act,” the statement reads.