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Press Trust Of India Moves Delhi High Court Challenging IT Rules 2021, Notice Issued

Sparsh Upadhyay
8 July 2021 3:50 AM GMT
Press Trust Of India Moves Delhi High Court Challenging IT Rules 2021, Notice Issued
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The Delhi High Court yesterday issued a notice to the Central Government on a plea moved by Press Trust Of India (PTI), challenging the constitutional validity of Part III of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. "The Impugned Rules usher in an era of surveillance and fear, thereby resulting in self-censorship, which...

The Delhi High Court yesterday issued a notice to the Central Government on a plea moved by Press Trust Of India (PTI), challenging the constitutional validity of Part III of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

"The Impugned Rules 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," the plea by PTI submits.

The bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice J.R. Midha issued notices to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting on the petition.

Significantly, the court has tagged PTI's petition along with similar pleas filed by other online news outlets [The Wire, The Quint, Pravada Media etc] and the same will now be heard on August 20.

The plea

The plea avers that without any statutory peg, similar grounds are sought to be brought in by the Impugned Rules, which not only goes beyond even what is contemplated by Section 69-A, in terms of which the Impugned Part purports to be made, but also undoes Shreya Singhal.

PTI has claimed that the Rules regulate 'publishers of news and current affairs content, particularly digital news portals, by imposing "sweeping" government oversight and a vaguely worded 'Code of Ethics'.

The Petition challenges the IT Rules, 2021 only in so far as they affect digital news portals, and is not with reference to 'publishers of online curated content', i.e., OTT media platforms or any other entities sought to be regulated by the Impugned Rules.

The plea has been filed through Wasim Beg, partner at L&L Partners and Swarnendu Chatterjee, Managing Associate at L&L Partners who said that in view of the unconstitutional nature of the Rules, we decided that the same should be challenged.

The plea alleges that the rules should be stayed as same are only meant to be "a weapon for the Executive or the State to enter and directly control the content of online digital news portal".

Further, it has also been argued that granting the executive the power to "virtually dictate" the content of news portals will violate right to freedom of speech and expression (under Article 19).

"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," states the plea.

PTI has sought to draw a distinction between news outlets and intermediaries such as social media platforms in its plea. Intermediaries were immunized from the consequences of the content hosted by them, and hence they may need to be separately regulated, it stated.

Stressing that since it is in the business or practice of news and journalism and thus, it cant be called an intermediary, the plea by PTI avers:

"The Petitioner seeks no safe harbour and is not entitled to any safe harbour provisions for the content that it hosts and publishes and it takes full responsibility for the content it publishes."
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