Television

News Broadcasters Association challenges new IT rules in High Court

It represents the private television news & current affairs broadcasters.

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New Delhi: Over a month after the new IT rules came into effect, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has filed a plea in the Kerala high court challenging the new rules stating that they give government authorities "excessive powers" to "unreasonably and impermissibly restrict" the freedom of speech and expression of the media.

In a detailed statement, the NBA said the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, are ultra vires to the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 apart from being violative of Article 14 (equality before law) and 19(1)(g) (right to freedom to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the Constitution. It also stated the challenge is to Part III (Code of Ethics and Procedure and Safeguards in relation to Digital Media) of the IT rules as they create an "oversight mechanism giving the executive unfettered, unbridled and excessive powers to regulate the content of digital news media".

"The grievance redressal mechanism created and the powers delegated have a ''chilling effect'' on the content of the media. The writ petition also states that the executive by creating such a structure, has made inroads into judicial power and vested itself with powers reserved exclusively for the judiciary and such exercise of power is without jurisdiction," the statement read.

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) represents the private television news & current affairs broadcasters, and currently has 25 leading news and current affairs broadcasters (comprising 78 news and current affairs channels) as its members. According to NBA, the IT Act also does not contain any provision for dealing with the "content" of any programme and therefore, the rules are ultra vires the parent Act.

The rules violate Article 14 as there is neither any parity nor any valid exercise of classification in the rules as ‘intermediaries’ have been equated with ''digital news media'', it said. The Programme Code contains vague, imprecise, and ambiguous terms concerning "content" such as "good taste", "snobbish attitude" and therefore, does not align with the judgment of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Centre has recently approached the Supreme Court seeking to transfer all pleas regarding the new IT rules to itself. Several digital news media platforms have already challenged the 2021 IT rules in various lower court courts. 

The new rules notified on 25 February, came into effect on 26 May recommend a three-tier mechanism for the regulation of all online media portals and publishers, over-the-top (OTT) platforms, and social media intermediaries. Under the new rules, the digital publishers are required to take urgent steps for appointing a grievance officer, if not done, and place all relevant details in the public domain. "They also need to constitute self-regulatory bodies through mutual consultation so that the grievances are addressed at the level of publishers or the self-regulating bodies themselves," according to the ministry.

In June, Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), composed of digital arms of 13 leading media companies of the country had also moved the high court against the rules, which it said: "violate the fundamental right of equality (Article 14) and freedom of speech and expression (Article 19(1)(a)". According to DNPA, the online news portals of traditional media houses, which run newspapers and TV channels, do not come within the purview of IT Rules

The Foundation of Independent Journalism (the non-profit company that publishes The Wire) and legal website, LiveLaw has also filed petitions against the new rules.

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