The Supreme Court on Monday put a stay on the proceedings pending before various High Courts on petitions against the new Information Technology Rules, notified by the Centre last year, Live Law reported.

A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Abhay Oka passed the order while hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the rules. However, the judges said that they will not interfere with any interim orders about the rules passed by the High Courts, according to Bar and Bench.

The stay order will be applicable till the next hearing on the petitions in the Supreme Court on May 19.

The new rules and petitions in High Courts

The new rules, notified in February 2021, constitute a set of sweeping regulations framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.

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.

The High Courts of Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kerala have been hearing petitions challenging the IT rules.

The Kerala High Court has already provided relief to digital media organisations. In separate orders in March and July last year, it had asked the Centre not to take action against legal news portal Live Law and the News Broadcasters Association.

In August, a division bench of the Bombay High Court had stayed the implementation of Rule 9 (1) and (3) of the new IT rules. The provisions deal with the code of ethics under the new IT rules.

The court had passed an order based on pleas filed by digital news website The Leaflet and journalist Nikhil Mangesh Wagle.

In December, the Madras High Court also directed the centre to not take any coercive action against digital media organisations under the new IT rules. This judgement was passed on a plea filed against the IT rules by the Digital News Publishers Association, an organisation of 12 digital media outlets, along with journalist Mukund Padmanabhan.

The Delhi High Court has also been hearing two petitions challenging the Centre’s regulations.

One of the petitions was filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, a trust that owns the news website The Wire, Dhanya Rajendran, the founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute and The Wire Founding Editor MK Venu. The other plea was filed by the news website The Quint.