Digital news portal ‘The Wire’ has moved toward the Hon’ble Delhi HC challenging the new rules made by the Central Government under the Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter referred to as “IT Act” 2000) to regulate internet intermediaries, Over-The-Top (hereinafter referred to as “OTT”) platforms and digital news media.
The petition has been led by ‘Foundation for Independent Journalist’, a trust which owns ‘The Wire’, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ‘The News Minute’ Dhanya Rajendran and Founding Editor of ‘The Wire’ MK Venu.
The challenged rules, titled the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, was passed by the Centre.
The Rules prescribing a Code of Ethics and a three-tier content regulation mechanism have been framed under the decades-old Information Technology Act, 2000.
Several journalists, lawyers, and activists have criticized the rules as an attempt to break the silence and demanded freedom of the press by laying the ground for tightening executive control over digital media.
The Editors Guild of India has demanded the repeal of these rules. When the Rules were notified, the founding editor of ‘The Wire’, specified that “On a quick reading, the burdens being placed on publishers of digital news go beyond the basic restrictions on freedom of speech (and thus freedom of the press) envisaged by Article 19 and are therefore ultra vires the Constitution. Digital publishers are already subject to Article 19 restrictions and the numerous defamation cases led against them, not to speak of various criminal cases, are proof of how existing laws are being used (or abused) to regulate digital media. The Indian constitution does not grant the executive the power to sit in judgment over the suitability of content published by the media. Granting an inter-ministerial committee of bureaucrats the power to pass judgment on what can and can’t be published or to decide on whether a media platform has responded adequately to grievances raised by members of the public has no basis in law and will amount to killing freedom of the press in India. Just to reiterate, existing laws already dene the reasonable restrictions on press freedom in India and any reader or government official with a grievance is free to seek a legal remedy provided it falls within the four walls of the “reasonable restrictions” defined by the constitution and 70 years of Indian jurisprudence on them. The media cannot be compelled to address “grievances” that go beyond that Lakshman Rekha”.
On the other hand, the Hon’ble Union Minister of IT and Law rejected the criticism against the Rules as unsubstantiated and said that the Rules were essential to protect the citizens. The Hon’ble Minister also mentioned that the Rules were framed after discussions with shareholders.