The Delhi High Court on Wednesday refused to provide interim protection from coercive action to digital media organisations The Wire, The Quint and AltNews in connection with their pleas against the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, reported Bar and Bench.
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. Media outlets have argued that the rules will allow the government to directly control their content.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh gave time to the central government and other respondents in the pleas to reply and listed the matter for further hearing on August 20.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma argued that nearly 1,200 digital media houses, including independent publishers, had already complied with the IT Rules and submitted details related to this.
Senior lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan, representing the media organisations, however, said: “We have challenged the [IT] Rules, they have not. What they are trying to do is in the face of a Supreme Court order which says government control of the media is unacceptable.”
Ramakrishnan also added that the information being sought under the Rules was already in the public domain, reported Live Law.
Ramakrishnan highlighted that it was the government that had not filed its response in the matter and therefore the media organisations should be allowed interim protection from adverse or coercive steps. But the court refused to provide this interim relief.
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.
Another plea was filed by Pravda Media Foundation, which runs fact-checking news portal AltNews.
On Tuesday, the central government urged the Supreme Court to transfer petitions filed in High Courts against the new Information Technology rules to itself.
The High Courts of Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Kerala have been hearing petitions challenging the IT rules.
On June 28, the Delhi High Court had refused to stay the Centre’s notice to digital news portals to comply with the new Information Technology rules.
Meanwhile, on June 23, 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.
The new IT 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.