The Delhi High Court on Wednesday deferred hearing on petitions filed by various digital news portals, including The Wire, The Quint and AltNews, challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which seek to regulate the digital news media.
The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh enquired as to what has happened to the transfer petition filed by the Centre before the Supreme Court, seeking a transfer of all petitions challenging the IT Rules, 2021, from various High Courts before the Supreme Court.
The Bench was informed that the apex court has directed that the matter be listed before the Chief Justice of India for constitution of a Bench.
Nitya Ramakrishnan, Senior Counsel for the digital news media, submitted that no order granting any restraint has been passed by the Supreme Court in the transfer petition.
However, the Madras High Court has granted interim protection to the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) by directing the Centre not to take any coercive action against the members of NBA over non-compliance of IT Rules, 2021. The Bench, subsequently, granted time to the Centre to file its response in these matters.
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 AltNews 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 the ‘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 quickly, 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 in these petitions that the rules are a ruse for the State to enter and directly control the content of digital news portals.
A similar petition has also been filed by Advocate and writer Sanjay Singh, challenging the lawfulness and constitutionality of the IT Rules, 2021, over alleged restriction on the freedom of speech and expression in so far as posting content on social media platforms is concerned.
“The rules banning postings, publishing or sharing of content on certain grounds are far too overboard without the necessary explanations, exceptions or clarifications. This has the effect of deterring posting, sharing or publishing of even such content, which is otherwise fully permissible under the fundamental right to speech and expression,” the plea claimed.
Several news portals, social media intermediaries and private individuals have moved various High Courts, including Delhi, Bombay and Madras, challenging the constitutional validity of the IT Rules, 2021, announced by the Government in February this year. The bench has listed the matter for further hearing on August 20.