The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the further proceedings in the High Courts in the petitions challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (IT Rules, 2021) and the Cable TV Networks (Amendment) Rules 2021.
A bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Abhay S Oka passed the order while issuing notice in the transfer petitions filed by the Union Government seeking the transfer of the petitions from High Courts to the Supreme Court.
The bench however said that it is not interfering with the interim orders passed by the High Courts at this juncture and that it is issuing notice on the stay applications.
"We are not touching any interim orders today... we will see on May 19, 2022", Justice Khanwilkar orally told Advocate Vrinda Bhandari, who was representing LiveLaw Media Private Ltd.
"We direct stay of further proceedings pending before the High Courts in the respective cases or to be filed hereafter until the next date of hearing involving challenge to IT rules or cable TV amendment rules which are subject matter of proceedings in this set of cases", the order passed by the bench stated. The cases will be next considerd on May 19.
The bench requested the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta to categorize the cases as 1).challenge to IT rules, 2).challenge to cable TV amendment rules, 3) Article 32.petitions generally seeking directions for evolving mechanism which would be touching upon the subject matter of IT rules.
Since the IT rules have now come into force, the petitions directions to regulate online media and OTT content may not it survive for further consideration, the bench noted.
The bench also said that it will separately deal with cases related to hate crimes and hate speech.
Court room exchange
Although a letter was circulated on behalf of the Union Government seeking adjournment for two weeks citing the unavailability of the Solicitor General, the SG appeared today when the matter was called.
SG: "Adjournmnet was sought for two weeks by mistake...We have provided for some regulations for OTT platforms, intermediaries, online platforms and online news. Some have challenged Part 2 of the regulations and some have challenged Part 3. There are transfer petitions and also fresh writ petition praying for stay of proceedings before various high courts. Some High Courts have stayed the statutory regulations- Kerala High Court, Delhi High Court, Bombay High Court. So we have filed SLPs"
Justice Khanwilkar: "Notices have gone on these SLPs?"
SG: "No, the respondents are here on caveat"
Justice Khanwilkar: "So we will issue notice on all fresh cases including transfer cases"
SG: "Can your lordships consider granting stay so far as transfer petitions are concerned so that no further orders are passed?And also notice on the stay applications as well?"
Justice Khanwilkar: "No difficulty, writ petitions will only proceed here"
Advocate Vrinda Bhandari: "I am appearing for Live Law. We are being led by Senior Advocate Arvind Datar and he is not avialable today as letter of adjournment was circulated. We had filed a petition before the Kerala High Court where some interim orders have been passed"
Justice Khanwilkar: We are not touching any interim orders today.
It may be noted that the High Courts of Kerala, Bombay and Madras have passed interim orders in the petitions challenging IT Rules 2021.
In March 2021, a single bench of the Kerala High Court granted interim relief in a petition filed by LiveLaw challenging the IT Rules by ordering that no coercive steps should be taken against it under the Rules. In June 2021, a similar interim relief was granted by the Kerala High Court to News Broadcasters Association.
In August 2021, a division bench of the Bombay High Court stayed the enforcement of "Code of Ethics" under the IT Rules on a petition filed by the company running the legal portal The Leaflet. The High Court prima facie observed that the said provisions infringe the fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) and also go against the substantive provisions of the Information Technology Act 2002.
Following that, in September 2021, the Madras High Court also stayed the enforcement of IT Rules against digital media observng that the oversight mechanism robs media of its independence.
Digital news portals "The Wire" & "The Quint" and social media intermediary Facebook have approached the Delhi High Court challenging the Rules.
On September 2, 2021, a bench led by the Chief Justice of India had directed the listing of the petitions relating to IT Rules after 6 weeks, on a request made by the SG.