The Delhi High Court has issued notification to the government after the online media and news portal, Quint documented a plea against the Centre’s new Information Technology rules for digital media.
The plea filed by the Quint questions the constitutional legality of the rules an has been joined alongside the Wire’s appeal which is also based on similar subject matter.
As er the plea, the executive ability to direct the substance or contents to the online media and portals would unequivocally disregard the rights ensured by Articles 14 and Article 19 (1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.
Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees fair and equal treatment before the law while Article 19 empowers the citizens with freedom of speech and expression.
However, the improvised Information Technology rules, declared by the Centre on February 25, seeks to control the digital portals and websites by enforcing government discretion and a “Code of Ethics”, therefore violation the provisions of the Information Technology Act
A two-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh, took up the appeal on issued directions to the Centre to file their response in the by April 16, and posted the matter for additional hearing on the same date.
As per the plea, “The IT Rules, 2021 present online and digital platforms with ‘news and current undertakings content’ as a particular and targeted on class to be under the purview of the loose-end guidelines of ‘Code of Ethics’ which is to be under the control of the Central Government officials.”
The petition further stated that on March 11, the Quint’s editorial board received an e-mail from the Information and Broadcasting Department informing them about the new rules.
The e-mail contained information about the Part III of the Act which relates to the ‘Code of Ethics’ and stated that the new rules have come into implementation and that the current mail is in correspondence to ensure compliance to the impugned rules.
Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, representing the Quint, said that the public authority had begun making a move on the guidelines and have mentioned that no coercive move shall be made against them.
The plea additionally added, “Upon the merest protest or even with no such complaints, space has been made for the State to enter and control news and perspectives via cancellation, change or obstructing, reproach, constrained expression of apology etc.”
“Treating the digital and online news platforms similar to social networking sites and distinguishing it from the print news media is not only unfair but unreasonable as well”, the petition contended.
The Digipub News India Foundation, an organisation representing the Digital news sector, including the Quint, had written to the authority, contending that the particulars of the Information Technology Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021 “seems to conflict with the rule of information and its role in a democracy”.
The Editors Guild of India had likewise given a statement emphasizing that “it is a matter of “profoundly concerned” that the new standards could generally modify how publishers of the news and information work over the web and can possibly subvert the media opportunity in India.