Delhi HC issues notice to Centre on plea challenging new IT rules

The matter will be heard next on 16 April

KOLKATA: The Delhi high court on Tuesday issued notice to the central government in a plea challenging the new rules framed under Information Technology (guidelines for intermediaries and digital media ethics code) Rules 2021.

A division bench headed by chief justice DN Patel was hearing the petition which has been filed by the Foundation of Independent Journalism (the non-profit company that publishes The Wire). It has sought a response from the ministry of electronics and information technology in the matter and given them time to submit the same.

The counsel for the petitioners, senior lawyer Nitya Ramakrishnan, stated that the rules have put an additional regulatory burden on news media and current affairs.

“They cannot place a whole regulatory burden under Section 69A on news and current affairs agencies. 69A only provides for issuing directions to intermediaries,” she argued as quoted in media reports.

The petition argued that the new IT Rules issued on February 25, 2021, were “palpably illegal” in seeking to control and regulate digital news media when the parent statute nowhere provided for such a remit.

“The IT Rules, 2021, expand the scope of the Act even further by providing for a Code of Ethics and a three-tier regulatory system to administer a loose-ranging Code of Ethics, that contains wide and vague terms as ‘half-truths’, ‘good taste’, ‘decency’,” the petition said.

The plea also contended that the oversight mechanism and the inter-departmental committee set up under the new rules would have the power to recommend "draconian measures such as ordering the deletion, modification of content or blocking the same."

The matter will be heard next on 16 April.

Several journalists, lawyers and activists have decried the rules as an attempt to muzzle freedom of press by laying the ground for tightening executive control over digital media. The Editors Guild of India last week demanded the repeal of these rules.

The government laid down new guidelines for social media platforms on 25 February, making a distinction between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. In a gazette notification, it also specified five million registered users in India as the threshold for significant social media intermediaries.

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