News agency Press Trust of India on Wednesday challenged the Centre’s Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 in the Delhi High Court, Forbes reported. The new rules were introduced in February and came to effect in May.
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.
PTI argued before the court that the rules would “usher in an era of surveillance and fear, thereby resulting in self-censorship, which results in abridgment/ violation of Fundamental Rights as enshrined under Part III of the Constitution of India”, according to The Hindu.
The news agency described the new rules as “a weapon for the Executive or the State to enter and directly control the content of online digital news portal” and said that their implementation must be stayed, according to Forbes.
PTI also submitted that the Centre’s distinction between digital and print media was a violation of Article 14 (equality before law) of the Constitution of India, The Times of India reported.
“They introduce digital portals with ‘news and current affairs content’ as a specific and targeted class to be subject to regulation by a loose-ranging ‘Code of Ethics’, and to be consummately overseen by Central Government officers, all of which is violative... of the Constitution,” PTI said in its petition, according to the Hindu.
PTI told the court that it took complete responsibility for the content it published and was not an intermediary, according to The Hindu. The news agency said it would be wrong to say that it was not a regulated medium since all civil and criminal laws were applicable to it.
Intermediaries are immune from liability for punishment if they comply with requests from the courts and public authorities to take down posts from users, according to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. However, Rule 7 of the new regulations states that Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 will not be applicable to intermediaries who fail to comply with the rules.
The Delhi High Court bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice JR Midha refused to grant interim relief to the news agency but issued a notice to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Information and Broadcasting ministry based on its petition.
On Wednesday, the court had also 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 new rules. Media outlets have argued that the rules will allow the government to directly control their content.
The High Courts of Bombay, Madras and Kerala have also been hearing petitions challenging the digital media rules. On Tuesday, the Centre urged the Supreme Court to transfer those petitions to itself.