The Delhi High Court on Tuedsay, March 09, 2021 issued notice on petition challenging the newly introduced Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, notified by the the Centre on February 25, under the Information Technology Act, 2000 to regulate digital news media as being ultra vires to the said parent act while setting up a distinction of ‘publishers of news and current affairs content’ as part of ‘digital media’. The new rules essentially introduce a new a regulatory oversight mechanism for news and current affairs/curated content on the internet, under the oversight of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB).
Under these rules, the MIB has been awarded with powers to issue orders to publishers and online intermediaries block, delete or modify news and current affairs content under Section 69 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000.The petitioners further challenge the IT rules 2021 in so far as affecting the digital news portal, excluding OTT media platforms and have submitted to regulate such portals under Part III of the Rules by imposing Government oversight and a ‘Code of Ethics’.
Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for the petitioners, told the division bench headed by CJ DN Patel that the government was in effect bringing back powers it had under Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v Union of India in March 2015. She told the court that Section 69A only comes into play on specific grounds and it is limited to be issued to intermediaries and not news publishers.
To put things into perspective, it needs to be mentioned that Section 69A allows Centre to block public access of any information on an intermediary, in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above.
Quoting "The parent Act does not recognise digital news media as a separate category of entities and does not seek to subject them or their content to any set of special regulations. The Impugned Part of the Rules, to the extent that it seeks to achieve such special regulation or control of digital media including online news platforms, is manifestly ultra vires the parent Act", she further argued that Section 69 being limited in its scope and power cannot be made applicable to news media or news publishers.