The Delhi High Court on Friday sought a response from the Centre on a petition filed by The Quint, challenging the new Information Technology rules to regulate digital media, reported Live Law.
Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for the news website, submitted that the government has started taking action based on the guidelines. She sought protection from coercive action.
However, a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh refused to pass any order at this stage, according to Bar and Bench. They issued notices to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
“Digital news portals such as the Quint, published by the petitioners, are already subject to all the civil and criminal laws enacted for those interests,” the plea said. “Therefore, the IT Rules, 2021, cannot be in the interest of Article 19(2). They are only meant to be a ruse for the state to enter and directly control the content of digital news portals.”
The Quint argued that online news portals ought to be treated on par with print newspapers as they both contain written material on current affairs.
The High Court listed the matter for hearing on April 16, along with another petition filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, a trust that owns digital news portal The Wire, Dhanya Rajendran, the founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute, and The Wire Founding Editor MK Venu.
On February 25, the Centre notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The rules are framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
Online platforms will now have to be much more responsive to complaints about posts on their networks, including giving the government details about the “originator” of content – effectively breaking end-to-end encryption – as well as setting up verification systems that could have a major impact on individual privacy.
Siddharth Varadarajan, one of the founding editors of The Wire, had said that India’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 had 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.
In February, the Internet Freedom Foundation had said that the new rules could likely mean “government oversight and more censorship”. DigiPub, an 11-member digital-only news association, had also written to the Centre suggesting that the rules seem to “go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”.
The Congress had said the rules were “non-statutory” guidelines that the government was attempting to bring without the Parliament’s assent.