‘The Wire,’ an online new portal approached the Delhi High Court
to challenge the new rules which have been formulated by the Central Government under the Information Technology Act, 2000
. These new rules aim to regulate the digital news media, internet intermediaries and OTT (Over-the-top) platforms.
‘Foundation for Independent Journalist,’ a trust owning ‘The Wire’ filed the petition along with Founding Editor of ‘The Wire,’ MK Venu and Founder and Editor in Chief of ‘The News Minute,’ Dhanya Rajendran. The matter will be heard by a division bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel on March 9, 2021. The IT (Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, which are the rules in question had been notified by the Centre on February 25, 2021. They prescribe a code of ethics along with a three-tier mechanism as framed under the IT Act, 2000.
It has been alleged by various activists, journalists as well as lawyers that these rules are an attempt to constraint the freedom of press as it tightens executive control on digital media. The repeal of the said rules have been demanded by the Editors Guild of India. When the rules in question were notified, Sidharth Varadarajan was quoted saying in an interview with LiveLaw:
"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 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 filed against them, not to speak of various criminal cases, are proof of how existing laws are being used (or abused) in order 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 define the reasonable restrictions on press freedom in India and any reader or government official with a grievance is free to s ee 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.”
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister of IT & Law, did not pay heed to this criticism of the said rules and went on to call these completely baseless. He conveyed that these rules had been formed in consultation with the stakeholders.
Joining him in the line with similar opinion is Amit Khare, the Secretary of Information and Broadcasting. He dismissed the alleged criticism and said, “Some sceptics have described these rules as curbing freedom of expression and have even termed them as dictatorial. They seem to be looking for a black cat in a dark room where none exists.”