New IT rules break the law and gag freedom of speech: 13 key media companies move Madras HC
The Madras High Court on Wednesday issued notices to the Union’s Electronics and Information and Information Technology and Broadcasting ministries on a plea by the Digital News Publishers Association – a collective of 13 members of the country’s largest news media companies – challenging the constitutional validity of information technology (Rules on Intermediaries and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), 2021 (IT Rules, 2021).
The petition argues that these rules violate Articles 14 (equality), 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution (right to freedom of speech and expression and right to profession).
Hearing the request for interim orders, a bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Judge Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy recorded the applicants’ argument that there is “a sufficient basis for the applicants … the fear that coercive and twisting measures weapons may be taken ”under those provisions and sought an order requesting the restriction of the application of Rules 12, 14 and 16 Rule 16 of the Rules gives the Secretary, I&B, emergency powers to block, as provisional, public access to any information or part of it without giving the intermediary hosting said information any possibility of hearing. Clause 12 provides options for one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers, while 14 stipulates that the I&B department should form an inter-ministerial committee with representatives from other departments.
When lead counsel PS Raman, representing the DNPA, requested an interim order prohibiting the Union government from taking action under the said rules pending the resolution of the plea, the judiciary refused to grant it, noting that ‘no adverse action had been taken against the applicants so far. The court granted the applicants the freedom to apply to the High Court for interim relief if the Center takes adverse action.
The High Court linked the case to another earlier petition filed by musician and writer TM Krishna challenge the rules. The High Court ordered that a copy of the petition be forwarded to the additional attorney general’s office. The respondents, both departments, must file their counter affidavits within fifteen days. The next hearing is in three weeks.
The main grounds for challenging the DNPA: the rules attempt to legislate on the conduct of entities outside the scope of the IT law of 2000; they place the burden of “over-regulation” on traditional and traditional media organizations; they violate the provisions of the IT law; seek to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press on vague grounds already invalidated by the Supreme Court. And that the rules are likely to usher in an era of “watch and fear”.
Freedom of expression and regulation
Main objections of DNPA’s advocacy: The new rules violate information technology law, gag free speech, usher in an era of fear and surveillance, and overload traditional and legacy media with overregulation.
The petition also challenged the code of ethics formulated by the government and argued that the rules aim to regulate content on “undefined, vague and subjective” standards such as “half-truth, good taste, decency”, which offer a “broad scope for imminent misuse” by government agencies.
Formed in 2018, DNPA includes: ABP Network, Amar Ujala, Dainik Bhaskar Corp, Express Network, HT Digital Streams, IE Online Media Services (which is part of Indian Express Group), Jagran Prakashan, Lokmat Media, NDTV Convergence, TV Today Network, The Malayala Manorama, Times Internet Limited, and Ushodaya Enterprises. Mukund Padmanabhan, former editor of The Hindu and The Hindu Business Line, is a co-petitioner with DNPA.
DNPA argued that since it only represents traditional and traditional media in print and broadcast media, which now have an online or digital presence as an extension of their main arms, the association should not be considered as representative of news and content publishers exclusively present digitally.
Several regulations are already in place for traditional and traditional print and broadcast media, which worked before the advent of the internet and digital media, according to the plea.
The mandatory requirement of DNPA members to be forced to comply with the IT rules of 2021 “will thus lead to a situation of over-regulation and unnecessary complication” of a sector which is already “well regulated” by law and government. government, the DNPA said in its plea.
The DNPA’s petition is the ninth of its kind against the new IT rules. According to the information available, five petitions have been filed in the High Court of Delhi, while two each are heard by the High Court of Kerala and Madras and one is entered in the High Court of Karnataka.
In addition to news media organizations, the instant messaging platform WhatsApp has also contacted the Delhi High Court to challenge the provision that requires messaging social media intermediaries to allow tracing of the first sender of the message.
On February 25 of this year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology announced the Intermediate Directives and the Code of Ethics for Digital Media. The three-part rules included guidelines for social media intermediaries, major social media intermediaries, and digital news posts.
While the IT department was declared the nodal ministry for compliance with guidelines for social media intermediaries, the I&B department was given administrative responsibility for adhering to the guidelines announced for the websites of digital news, OTT platforms and online media agencies.