After year-long deliberations, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has decided to drop regulation against paid news in newspapers and magazines from the proposed Press and Registration of Books and Periodicals (PRBP) Bill.
The decision follows opinion within the ministry that PRBP was not the right legislation for paid news as the former only related to title verification, registration and circulation verification of newspapers, books and periodicals.
Paid news, the ministry now says, pertains to “content”, an issue that should be dealt through an amendment in the Press Council Act which is concerned with standards of newspapers and news agencies in India.
Sources said that the draft Bill was awaiting clearance from I&B Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore before it could be taken to the Cabinet for approval. The Bill is likely to lapse, sources said, with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha in May next year.
At present, there is no law to tackle paid news.
The Election Commission of India has certain rules on paid news in place, under which it disqualified Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra for three years in June 2017.
A parliamentary panel in August 2015 had asked the Ministry to expeditiously formulate an appropriate policy to make “paid news” a punishable electoral malpractice and also empowering the Press Council to adjudicate complains of paid news and giving final judgment in the matter.
However, it was only in June 2017 that the Ministry decided to scrap the 150-year-old archaic Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act of 1867 and drafted a fresh Bill to regulate newspapers and publications as well as their registration.
The new Bill proposed strict action against publications indulging in paid news ranging from suspending the publication for 45 days to cancelling its registration.
If any publication was found to have indulged in or continued indulging in publishing paid news, the press registrar general could suspend the publication for a period of 45 days after holding an inquiry under the Press Council Act, 1978.
It further states that if the publication continues to publish paid news even after suspension, the press registrar general can also order cancellation of the registration of the publication. However, the publisher will be given an opportunity to present his view in such a case, the provision mentions.