‘Open consultations with industry before placing the bill in Parliament'

The Indian Newspaper Society (INS) on Thursday voiced “deep concern” at the Cabinet giving approval for amendments to the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, without consulting stakeholders. It appealed to the government to initiate consultations with the industry before placing the bill in Parliament.

In a statement released in New Delhi, INS president Kundan R. Vyas said the purpose of amending legislation ought to be to remove anomalies and plug loopholes prejudicial to public order. “However, the amendments cleared by the Cabinet without any proper consultation with the industry contain a section providing ‘penalty' which is draconian and violative of Chapter 3 of the Constitution.”

Mr. Vyas said the amendments envisaged suspension of publication for 30 days for an offence committed for the first time, 60 days for a second offence and cancellation of registration for a third offence and even imprisonment. “The punishments are prescribed for several technical violations.”

Suspension of publication was “too wide a power to be granted to a Magistrate or even Press Registrar,” Mr. Vyas said. Any provision that caused cessation of publication had no place in democracy and violated the right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Noting that the amendments sought to vest wide-ranging powers with the Press Registrar of India, he said: “Suspension of publication, restriction on registration of names similar to foreign titles etc., are bound to have far-reaching adverse consequences to the Indian print media.”

Mr. Vyas urged Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni to give serious consideration to the industry's concerns and initiate consultation before the bill was introduced in Parliament.

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