IT rules: Do not take coercive action against digital media firms, Madras High Court tells Centre
News organisations have opposed the rules, saying they will allow the government to directly control their content.
The Madras High Court on Monday directed the Centre not to take coercive action against digital media organisations under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, PTI reported.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Indian Broadcasters and Digital Media Foundation, challenging the provisions of the rules.
The new Information Technology Rules, introduced by the Centre in February, are a sweeping set of regulations for social media companies, streaming plaforms and digital news content. They virtually bring the platforms under the government’s supervision for the first time.
For digital news media and video streaming platforms, the new rules provide a self-regulatory body and an inter-departmental committee wide-ranging punitive powers to “warn/censure/admonish/reprimand the publisher” or even censor content as they deem fit.
Several media outlets have challenged the new rules in courts. They have argued that the guidelines will allow the government to directly control their content.
On Monday, the lawyer for the Indian Broadcasters and Digital Media Foundation told the Madras High Court that the Centre had been initiating action against under the rules even though the Bombay High Court had stayed their enforcement in August, PTI reported.
The Bombay High Court had put a stay on the implementation of Rule 9 (1) and (3) of the rules.
Rule 9 (1) says that digital media content publishers must observe and adhere to the code of ethics in the IT guidelines. Rule 9 (3) provides a three-tier structure to address the grievances made in relation to publishers to ensure that the code of ethics is followed.
The High Court, however, did not stay the implementation of Rule 9 (2) that deals with action against publishers when they are in contravention of the law.
The Kerala High Court has also provided relief to digital media organisations. In separate orders in March and July, it had asked the Centre not to take action against legal news portal Live Law and the News Broadcasters Association.
On Monday, after hearing the arguments of the Indian Broadcasters and Digital Media Foundation, the Madras High Court said: “The respondents [Centre] are restrained from taking any coercive action without the permission of the Court.”
The court will take up the matter again on January 25.
The Madras High Court has also been hearing petitions filed by musician TM Krishna and Digital News Publishers Association, an organisation of 12 digital media outlets, along with journalist Mukund Padmanabhan.
Like the Bombay High Court, it had also stayed the implementation of Rule 9 (1) and 9 (3) of the digital media rules in September.