The Delhi High Court on Tuesday issued a notice to the Centre on a petition challenging its new Information Technology rules to regulate digital media, Live Law reported.
The petition was filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, a trust which owns news website The Wire and Dhanya Rajendran, the founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute, and The Wire Founding Editor MK Venu.
The petitioners argued that even though the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which had similar provisions to regulate content, the Centre introduced the new rules to “do indirectly what it cannot do directly.”
A notice was issued by a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh. The matter will be heard in detail on April 16, according to Bar and Bench.
The government issued the new set of sweeping rules, Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, on February 25 to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content that will virtually bring these platforms, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
Following the introduction of the new rules, the Internet Freedom Foundation had said that the new rules could likely mean “government oversight and more censorship”. Meanwhile, DigiPub, an 11-member digital-only news association, has written to the Centre suggesting that the rules seem to “go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”.
The Wire is one of the members of DigiPub.
“On a quick reading, the burdens being placed on publishers of digital news go beyond the basic restrictions on freedom of speech (and thus freedom of the press) envisaged by Article 19 and are therefore ultra vires the Constitution,” Siddharth Varadarajan, one of the founding editors of The Wire, told Live Law.
Varadrajan also pointed out that the country’s Constitution does not give the power to the executive to judge “suitability of content” in media and that granting that to an inter-ministerial committee of bureaucrats “will amount to killing freedom of the press in India”. He said that the existing laws already define reasonable restrictions on press freedom under Article 19(2) of the Constitution and that an aggrieved reader or government official can seek legal remedy under that provision.