The Delhi High Court on Monday refused to stay the Centre’s notice to digital news portals to comply with the new Information Technology rules, Live Law reported.
The court was hearing two petitions challenging the rules. One of the petitions was filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, a trust that 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 other was filed by The Quint, submitting that the rules are “meant to be a ruse for the state to enter and directly control the content of digital news portals”.
The vacation bench of Justice C Hari Shankar and Justice Subramonium Prasad refused to stay the Centre’s May 28 notice asking digital news portals to comply with the new rules. “The matter is pending before the regular division bench, no stay was granted,” the High Court said. “They are only implementing the notification on which there is no stay. There is no question of interim relief.
The court said the petitioners have not made a case that the May 28 notice is contrary to the rules. “You have only made out the case that they should not have taken coercive action,” it said. “It is not your case that the implementation is against the rules.”
The High Court re-notified the cases before the regular bench that will take up the matter on July 7. It also issued a notice to the Centre on a third petition filed by Alt News. The bench noted that the plea was on parity with the ones filed by The Wire and The Quint.
During the hearing, Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishna, representing the petitioners, said that the digital news portals on June 18 were warned that “consequences will follow” unless they comply with the rules. “When they are threatening coercive action, I’m certainly entitled to come to your lordships,” said Ramakrishna. “They are coercing us into a disciplinary regime of the central government. Until now they were only engaging with us in correspondence.”
The new information technology rules – which were announced in February and became effective in May – 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.
Among other things, the “Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021” regulations require these platforms to appoint chief compliance officers, in order to make sure the rules are followed, nodal officers, to coordinate with law enforcement agencies, and grievance officers. All of them should be based in India. It also requires social media platforms with over 50 lakh users to help in identifying the “originator” of messages upon the government’s request.
In the petition moved by The Wire, 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”. In March, the Delhi High Court had issued a notice to the Centre on the petition.
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, wrote to the Centre saying that the rules seem to “go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”.