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Kerala HC issues notice to Centre on new IT rules

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NEW DELHI: The Kerala high court on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre on a plea challenging the new Information Technology (IT) rules to regulate digital news media. The development comes a day after the Delhi high court too sought the Union government’s response on another petition challenging the new guidelines.

The writ petition was filed by LiveLaw News Media Pvt Ltd, the publisher of news website LiveLaw and its founder M A Rashid and managing editor Manu Sebastian, who challenged the constitutional validity of the new rules terming them "arbitrary, vague, disproportionate and unreasonable."

The petitioners have argued that the regulatory mechanism under the rules cannot be termed as "reasonable restrictions" under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. According to the plea, the rules impose an unconstitutional three-tiered complaints-and-adjudication structure upon publishers, which makes the executive both the complainant and the judge on vital free speech questions involving blocking and take down of online material.

"We are reporting judgments. Somebody to whom the judgement is not palatable, may make a grievance, and we are required to sit in appeal over the content," the petitioners' advocate told the court, as reported by the news website.

A single bench of justice PV Asha also restrained the central government from taking any coercive action against the news website under part three of the IT Rules.

The new IT (guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics code) rules 2021, notified by the Centre on 25 February, have been severely criticised by journalists, lawyers and activists who argue that the regulations could pose a threat to freedom of expression by laying the ground for tightening executive control over digital media. The Editors Guild of India too had demanded the repeal of these rules, highlighting that the laws are “deeply concerning”. The rules recommend a three-tier mechanism for regulation of all online media, which confers blocking powers to an inter-ministerial committee.

On Tuesday, the Delhi HC directed Centre to respond to a similar petition filed by the Foundation of Independent Journalism (the non-profit company that publishes The Wire), which stated that the rules have put an additional regulatory burden on news media and current affairs.

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