The Hon’ble Delhi HC has delivered notice on a petition which challenges the newly introduced Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (hereinafter referred to as “IT Rules, 2021”) The new rules which seek out to introduce a self-regulatory regime for online intermediaries, social media platforms, streaming services, and digital media companies.
The new rules essentially announced a new regulatory mechanism for news and current affairs/curated content on the internet, under the oversight of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (hereinafter referred to as “MIB”). It is significant to note that under these new rules framed by the government, the MIB has been given authority to issue orders to publishers and online intermediaries to block, delete or modify news and current affairs content under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
The government also has the controls to reprimand news organizations based on their capability to comply with the rules and the timelines set up the proposed three-tier grievance redressal mechanism. These rules affect all news organizations publishing content on the internet, foreign news and curated content publishers as well as independent online news and current affairs commentators.
The petition challenging these rules on ‘news media’ was filed by the Foundation of Independent Journalism (the trust that owns TheWire), its founding editor, founder, and editor-in-chief of The News Minute. The petition solely represented ‘publishers of news and current affairs content or news media, and not curated content publishers or streaming services. The petition says that the entirety of Part III of the rules, specifically for digital media publishers, is ultra vires the parent Act and if allowed to stand it would affect freedom of expression in the country granted to its people under The Indian Constitution.
Petitioner also mentioned in the open court that the government was in effect bringing back powers it had under Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, which was struck down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v Union of India in March 2015. She told the court that Section 69A only comes into play on specific grounds and it is inadequate to be issued to intermediaries and not news publishers.
As part of the arguments before the Hon’ble Division bench of the Delhi HC, headed by Chief Justice the petitioner alleged while the government has published a list of intermediaries who fall under the ambit of the IT Act, 2000, digital media companies and publishers are not intermediaries. News media is not beyond regulations, but it has to be regulated through a statute that is passed by the legislature.
The petition will be heard next on April 16, 2021.
Case: Foundation of Independent Journalism & Ors v. Union of India.