The Madras High Court on Thursday stayed the implementation of Rule 9(1) and (3) of the Centre’s new information technology-related rules, reported Bar and Bench. The two sub-sections deal with code of ethics mentioned in the rule.

Rule 9(1) says that digital media content publishers must adhere to the code of ethics in the IT guidelines. Rule 9(3) provides for a three-tier structure to address grievances made by such publishers, to ensure that the code of ethics is followed.

Rule 9 is in follows up on Rule 8, which in a sweeping manner, says that the code of ethics will be applicable on all “publishers of news and current affairs content” and “publishers of online curated content” on digital media.

The Madras High Court’s stay came on two pleas filed by musician TM Krishna and Digital News Publishers Association, an organisation of 12 digital media outlets, along with journalist Mukund Padmanabhan.

“Prima facie, there is substance to petitioner’s grievance that the oversight mechanism to control the media by government may rob the media of its independence, and the fourth pillar, so to say, of democracy may not at all be there,” the bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu said.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate PS Raman, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that despite the Bombay High Court’s stay order, his clients were issued notices alleging they were in violation of the rules.

The Bombay High Court had stayed the implementation of the same two provisions on August 14.

Raman also argued that the new rules violate Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution, reported Live Law.

The matter has been posted for hearing on October 27 after the court noted that the Supreme Court will take up transfer petitions on the matter in the first week of October.

The Centre had notified the new rules under the Information Technology Act, 2000, on February 25. The rules, which were enforced from May, regulate social media companies, streaming platforms and digital news content. It virtually brings them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

The petitions

In his petition, Krishna had argued that the new rules impinge upon his right to privacy.

“I submit that the impugned rules offend my rights as an artist and a cultural commentator by both imposing a chilling effect on free speech and by impinging on my right to privacy”, Krishna had said in his affidavit.

He had added that the “vague and indeterminate” rules will stop artists from raising difficult questions against the “existing aesthetic, gender and caste hierarchies in Carnatic music” and also prevent people from questioning the prevailing cultural conventions.

The Digital News Publishers Association had argued that Part III of the rules imposed “arbitrary, unjustified, undue and unfair oversight into the acts” of the members of the organisation. Part III of the rules includes both Rule 8 and 9.

“[This] opens the door to suppressing freedom of speech and the independence of news media in the country,” the petition said.