The Madras High Court has issued notice to the Union Government on a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the new Information Technology Rules 2021 and which seeks they be declared ultra-vires of Article 14 and Article 19 of the Constituion.
The bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy tagged the petition filed by an association of legacy media outfits who have a digital presence, with a similar plea filed by musician-activist T.M. Krishna which had challenged the new IT Rules notified by the Government of India as arbitrary, vague and unreasonable restriction on digital news media and social media intermediaries. The Court has allowed the association to approach if they are coerced by the authorities under the provisions of the IT Rules.
The petition has been filed by the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) and former The Hindu Editor Mukund Padmanabhan said the new IT rules should apply only for web-only journalism sites and not on websites of newspapers, magazines and television channels, known as legacy media. The plea said the Government has not differentiated between legacy media houses and new websites in its rules. The provisions of the new IT Rules give the Government rights to undue, unjust and unfair oversight into the media houses thus infringing freedom of press.
The petition said the new IT Rules herald a new era of surveillance and fear which promotes self-censorship further curtailing the fundamental rights envisaged by the Constitution.
The legacy media outfits said if they complied with the Rules, the sector, which is already well regulated by a publishers’ code of ethics, would end up being over-regulated.
Earlier, Krishna had moved the High Court saying the rules impinge on his privacy as they clampdown on his rights as an artists and a commentator on culture. Apart from the Madras High Court, The Quint, The Wire and other websites have moved the Delhi High Court against the rules.
On Monday, Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani of the Delhi HC recused himself from hearing the petitions. It will be heard by another bench in which Justice Bhambhani isn’t a member on June 28, Monday.
A vacation bench of Justices Bhambhani and Jasmeet Singh asked the matter to be listed before another bench, of which Justice Bhambhani is not a party, next Monday.