THE Delhi High Court Tuesday issued notice to the Central Government on a petition filed by the news portal, The Wire, and the co-founder of ‘The News Minute’ Dhanya Rajendran, challenging the “Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021” in so far as they seek to regulate digital media platforms.
“We do not say news media is beyond regulations. It has to be done by way of a statute dedicated only for the news media,” senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for the petitioners, submitted.
“The new Rules 2021 dealing with the digital media go far beyond anything that is permissible in a democracy”, she said.
Ramakrishnan added that the Information Technology Act, 2000 had no provision to regulate digital media and thus the 2021 Rules were ultra vires of the 2000 Act.
A division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Jasmeet Singh sought to know the response of the Centre and issued notice to it to file an affidavit.
The Centre issued the rules on February 25 to regulate the functioning of online media portals and publishers, over-the-top (OTT platforms), and social media intermediaries. These rules, inter-alia, require OTT platforms and news portals to formulate a robust three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.
Under these rules, all news portals and OTT platforms that operate in India will also be required to inform the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting of details of their respective entities within 30 days of the notification of the rules.
The rules now require news portals to comply with the norms of the Press Council of India (under the Press Council Act 1978), and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation) Act 1995.
Digipub News India Foundation, a representative association of digital news organisations, including The Wire, had earlier written to the government taking exception to “some specifics” of the rules.
In a letter to Prakash Javadekar, minister for I&B, and Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for electronics and IT, the foundation had argued that the rules “appear to go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”. The Editors Guild of India has also written to the government saying the new rules would “seriously undermine” media freedom in India.
Several leading digital rights activists and newspapers, including The Indian Express, The Telegraph, The Hindu, Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Medianama and the Internet Freedom Foundation have been vocal critics of the new regulatory laws.
They have alleged that the new guidelines breach the freedom of speech, and will be used to crackdown on dissent in the country. An editorial published in The Hindu titled, “wolf in watchdog’s clothing,” had described the new rules as predatory.
The article was originally published in The Leaflet.