The Centre on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to transfer petitions filed in High Courts against the new Information Technology rules to itself, Bar and Bench reported.
The High Courts of Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kerala have been hearing petitions challenging the IT rules. The new rules 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.
An unidentified official told the Hindustan Times that the Centre sought the transfer of the petitions from High Courts to avoid multiplicity of proceedings and to “ensure uniformity in the consideration of the rules under challenge”.
The Delhi High Court has 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 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 news website The Quint. Media outlets have argued that the rules will allow the government to directly control their content.
On June 28, the court had refused to stay the Centre’s notice to digital news portals to comply with the new Information Technology rules.
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The Madras High Court heard a petition filed by Digital News Publishers Association, an organisation of 12 digital media outlets, along with journalist Mukund Padmanabhan.
Their plea stated that organisations that only run online publications should fall under the ambit of the new information technology rules, according to Live Law. According to the petitioners, online news portals of “legacy media houses” that run newspapers and news channels do not come under the new rules. The court issued a notice to the Centre on this matter on June 23.
The petitioners also argued that a section of the rules imposed “arbitrary, unjustified, undue and unfair oversight into the acts” of the members of the Digital News Publishers Association. “...which opens the door to suppressing freedom of speech and the independence of news media in the country”.
Similar petitions have also been filed before the High Courts of Bombay and Kerala. In March, the Kerala High Court had restrained the Centre from taking coercive action against legal news websiteLive Law under the new digital media rules.
The new IT rules became effective in May. For social media platforms, the new rules mandate the appointment of nodal officers to coordinate with law enforcement agencies and compliance and grievance officers. They also state that platforms with over 50 lakh users must help identify the originators of messages upon the government’s request.
The regulations have created tensions between the Centre and microblogging site Twitter. The Centre has repeatedly criticised Twitter for not fully complying with the new IT rules. It told the Delhi High Court on Monday that Twitter had lost its “safe harbour immunity” because of that. Twitter will be stripped of the protection social media websites have against legal proceedings for unlawful content posted by users if the court accepts the Centre’s submission.