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Delhi High Court Seeks Centre's Reply To Pleas Challenging IT Rules 2021 By August 20

Akshita Saxena
4 Aug 2021 7:02 AM GMT
Delhi High Court Seeks Centres Reply To Pleas Challenging IT Rules 2021 By August 20
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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Central Government to file its reply in pleas filed by digital media houses 'The Quint' , 'AltNews' and 'The Wire', challenging the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021).When the matter was taken, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma told a bench headed by the...

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Central Government to file its reply in pleas filed by digital media houses  'The Quint' , 'AltNews' and 'The Wire', challenging the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021).

When the matter was taken, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma told a bench headed by the Chief Justice that a transfer petition has been filed by the Central Government before the Supreme Court, seeking transfer of all petitions filed before the High Courts, challenging the new Rules. However, Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for the newsportals, replied that even notice has not been issued and there is no stay on High Court proceedings as yet.

She also highlighted that the Kerala High Court has passed orders restraining coercive action under the IT Rules against certain media houses.

ASG Chetan Sharma on the other hand, appearing for the Respondent Ministry, requested that the pleas be listed for hearing on August 20. He also sought time to file a counter-affidavit in the matter.

Accordingly, the Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh has posted the matter for hearing on August 20 with direction to the Centre to file its reply by then.

The pleas challenge the constitutional validity of the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to the extent it regulates the publishers of news and current affairs content.

Ritu Kapur, the Director and Co-Founder of 'The Quint', alongwith the 'Foundation for Independent Journalism'(a non-profit company which owns 'The Wire'), Founder and Editor-in-Chief of 'The News Minute' Dhanya Rajendran and Founding Editor of 'The Wire' MK Venu are the petitioners. The petition filed Pravda Media Foundation, which owns the fact-checking portal 'AltNews', was also listed today.

The petition, filed through Advocates Prasanna S and Vinoothna Vinjam, contends that the new Rules are ultra vires the Constitution of India as well as the Information Technology Act to the extent they impose unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions on digital news media.

It is highlighted that the parent statute of the Rules, the IT Act, does not deal with digital media, and hence, the executive rules made under the said Act to regulate online news publishers are invalid.

The petition states that the Rules amount to an "overreach" as they incorporate the vague and arbitrary norms under the Press Council Act and the Programme Code, that too by way of subordinate legislation, in order to vest "draconian powers and control" with the executive, contends the petition.

"The regulations are frontally offensive to Article 19(1)(a) and Article 14. A restriction on the Fundamental Right to free speech and expression can only be to the extent strictly necessary for the stated interests in Article 19(2). Digital news portals such as the Quint, published by the Petitioners, are already subject to all the civil and criminal laws enacted for those interests. Therefore, the IT Rules, 2021 cannot be in the interest of Article 19(2). They are only meant to be a ruse for the State to enter and directly control the content of digital news portals", the plea states.

The digital messaging platform, WhatsApp, has also moved the Delhi High Court challenging the 'traceability' clause under the new IT Rules, under a different petition. The same is slated to be heard on August 27.

In March 2020, the Kerala High Court had also issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by LiveLaw challenging the new IT Rules. The High Court also passed an interim order restraining coercive action under Part 3 of the Rules against LiveLaw, its Chief Editor MA Rashid and Managing Editor Manu Sebastian. Similar protection order was passed on July 12 in favour of News Broadcasters Association's (NBA). 

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