The Delhi High Court on Friday issued notice on a plea filed by TheQuint, a digital news portal, challenging the new rules notified by the Centre under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 that regulates digital news media, social media intermediaries and OTT platform.
The Quint's plea was tagged with the one filed by the Foundation of Independent Journalism (FIJ) led by the editors of The Wire and The News Minute (TNM). LiveLaw—a portal that reports on legal proceedings, also filed a plea in the Kerala High Court where notice was issued. Kerala HC, unlike the Delhi HC, also granted LiveLaw interim protection from coercive action.
The Quint's plea—also filed by advocate Prasanna S and argued by advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan—echoes submissions made by the FIJ which also state how the rules bring back section 66a of the IT Act which the Supreme Court struck down as being arbitrary.
The new rules are "an overreach by a subordinate legislation" and go beyond the scope of the parent act, it said. The rules impose "Government oversight" and a 'Code of Ethics' that stipulate vague conditions such as 'good taste', 'decency', the prohibition of 'half- truths' etc.
The issues covered by the rules, The Quint said, find no mention in the parent IT Act; while the rules themselves seek "draconian consequences for perceived non-compliance, including blocking, modification and deletion of content, the compulsory publication of apology, which may be ordered and enforced by Central Government officials."
"Executive power to virtually dictate content to digital news portals would squarely violate Articles 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, the petition further read.
The IT Rules, 2021 introduce digital portals with 'news and current affairs content' as a specific and targeted class to be subject to regulation by a loose-ranging 'Code of Ethics' and to be consummately overseen by Central Government officers, it added. "Upon the merest complaint or even without any, space has been created for the State to enter and control news and views by way of deletion, modification or blocking, censure, compelled apology and more. Clubbing online news portals with social media as distinct from the print news media is unfair and irrational classification," the plea read.
It will be seen that a physical newspaper in the paper format and its exact replica online edition is not covered by the Rules. However, all editions and publications of 'news and current affairs' in the digital form (even if done by a media group that brings out physical newspapers) will be covered by the Rules as 'digital media' and treated as a digital news portal. Significantly, none of these definitions are found in the IT Act and are all brought in by the IT Rules, 2021with the express purpose of regulating their content, the plea further read.
In addition to all of the above, Rule 16 of the rules envision an 'emergency power' reserved with the Secretary of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to pass interim orders blocking any content without even giving an opportunity of hearing.
Updated On: 2021-03-19T16:50:51+05:30