India’s information and broadcasting ministry is discarding an important clause on paid news from its new press regulations bill

(Image source- Reuters)
  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is scrapping a clause in its Press and Registration of Books and Periodicals (PRBP) Bill which is directed at the regulation of paid news.
  • This is reportedly due to the fact that the bill, like the 151-year act that it is meant to replace, is squarely focused on the registration, title verification and distribution of newspapers and books.
  • The information and broadcasting ministry doesn’t, however, intend to ignore the issue of paid news. It could end up regulating paid news through an amendment to the Press Council Act of 1978, which deals with publishing standards.
India does not have any specific legislation to prohibit paid news. That was supposed to change with the Indian government’s new Press and Registration of Books and Periodicals (PRBP) Bill, which was being drafted to replace the 151-year old Press and Registration of Books Act.

However, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is scrapping a clause in the bill which is directed at the regulation of paid news, sources told the Indian Express.

The reason? It doesn’t fall under the purview of the new bill, which has been in the works since 2013. The bill is supposedly meant to only deal with the registration, title verification and distribution of newspapers and books. The content of newspapers does not fall under the PRBP Bill, just like the draconian Press and Registration of Books Act.

The clause aimed at preventing paid news by imposing a 45-day suspension on publications with such content. In the event that the publication continued publishing paid news, it’s license was to be revoked.

The bill would also have helped establish a legal, binding definition of “paid news”. The Press Council of India defines paid news rather broadly as “any news or analysis appearing in any media for a price in cash or kind as consideration”.

The information and broadcasting ministry does, however, intend to regulate paid news. The most likely route for this will be through an amendment to the Press Council Act of 1978, which deals with publishing standards.

Until then, it seems that the publishing of paid propaganda will be legal for the most part.

India’s Election Commission (EC) took a stand on the issue of paid news last year when it disqualified Narottam Mishra, Madhya Pradesh’s of Public Relations, Water Resources and Parliamentary Affairs, for publishing false accounts of his election expenditure when campaigning for state polls in 2008. In the absence of a paid news law, it had to rely on a section of the Representation of Peoples Act related to to false reporting of expenditure.

These false accounts related to expenditure on 42 samples of promotional media material which were meant to improve his election chances. However, in May 2018, the Delhi High Court imposed a stay on the order, citing insufficient evidence. In a troubling decision, it further explained that the EC could not regulate a candidate’s free speech.


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