The Delhi High Court on Wednesday refused to grant any interim relief to The Wire, The Quint, and Alt News in petitions filed by these digital news portals, challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which seek to regulate the digital news media.
The bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh deferred the matter, after being informed by the parties that a transfer petition has already been preferred by the Centre before the Supreme Court.
Senior Counsel for the digital news media Nitya Ramakrishnan said that at the time of issuing notice, the Court orally granted her permission to move the Court when they take coercive steps and urged for a hearing on the stay application.
She submitted that no reply has been filed by the respondents till now and that what they are planning to do is against the Supreme Court judgment wherein the Supreme Court has held that government control of media is totally unacceptable. She states thus: “Heavens will not fall if they wait until the matter is decided….And all they are asking for is in the public domain.”
Mr. Chetan Sharna, ASG, interjected by submitting that around 1000 standalone digital news publishers have already submitted their information.
On the point of providing interim relief to the petitioners, the Bench said: We will see next time. The matter will now be taken up on August 20’ 2021.
Earlier, the Vacation Bench of Justice C. Hari Shankar and Justice Subramonium Prasad, on June 28’2021, also refused to grant any interim relief stating that no interim relief was granted when the matter was listed before the regular bench on May 27’ 2021, and thus, there is no question of there being any interim relief from the vacation bench. The Vacation Bench stated: “The only case in your application is when notice is issued in the stay application, they should not have proceeded to take coercive action. We are not in agreement to that.”
To this, Ms Ramakrishnan had responded that when the Centre asked for compliance after the hearing before the regular bench, “what we have told them is not merely that the matter is pending. We have said several things … ..We have also told them the information they are seeking is in the public domain and there is no need for coercive action.” The bench had listed the interim application for hearing on July 7 and deferred hearing in the main writ petition to August 4.
The connected petitions have been filed by ‘The Wire’ publisher ‘Foundation for Independent Journalism’, ‘The Quint’ publisher ‘Quint Digital Media Limited’, and ‘Pravda Media Foundation,’ which is the parent company of Alt News website, seeking declaration of the IT Rules, 2021, as void and inoperative for being violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution, as also the parent Act -the Information Technology Act, 2000, in as much as the said rules apply to ‘publishers of news and current affairs content’.
As per the amended IT rules, social media and streaming companies will be required to modify/delete contentious content quicker along with tendering an apology as may be ordered by the Central Government. They will also have to appoint grievance redressal officers, and assist in investigations. It is alleged that the impugned rules are a ruse for the State to enter and directly control the content of digital news portals.