Madras HC responds to 13 media outlets, Journalist Challenge IT Rules
MeitY received a notice from the Madras HC on Wednesday in response to a petition filed by the Digital News Publishers Association, a 13-member collective of the nation's largest news media companies, challenging the constitutional validity of IT Rules, 2021.
The Union Ministries of Electronics and Information Technology and Information and Broadcasting on Wednesday received a notice from the Madras High Court in response to a petition filed by the Digital News Publishers Association, a 13-member collective of the nation's largest news media companies, challenging the constitutional validity of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 20. (IT Rules, 2021).
According to the petition, these restrictions contravene Articles 14 (equality), 19 (1) (a), and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution (right to freedom of speech and expression and right to the profession).
Hearing an application for interim orders, a bench led by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy recorded petitioners' submission that there is "sufficient basis for petitioners'...apprehension that coercive & arm-twisting action may be taken" under such provisions and sought an order restraining the operation of Rules 12, 14 & 16, I&B, and emergency powers to block, as an interim measure, public access to any information or a pamphlet. Provision 12 provides for one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers, whereas Provision 14 requires the I&B Ministry to form an inter-departmental committee with representation from other Ministries.
When senior lawyer P S Raman, representing the DNPA, sought an interim injunction prohibiting the Union Government from taking any action under the aforementioned regulations until the resolution of the case, the court rejected, observing that no adverse action has been started against the petitioners thus far. The judge allowed the petitioners to seek interim relief from the High Court if the Centre took any unfavourable step.
The High Court linked the case to an earlier suit challenging the regulations submitted by singer and writer T M Krishna. The High Court ordered that a copy of the petition be sent to the Additional Solicitor General's office. The defendants, the two Ministries, have a fortnight to file their counter-affidavits.
Reportedly, the next hearing is scheduled in three weeks.
The key grounds for the DNPA challenge are as follows: the rules attempt to legislate the conduct of entities not covered by the IT Act of 2000; they impose the burden of “over-regulation” on traditional and legacy media organisations; they violate provisions of the IT Act, and they seek to limit freedom of speech and freedom of the press on vague grounds already rejected by the Supreme Court. And that the regulations would very certainly usher in an era of "monitoring and terror."