Madras HC Issues Notice as 13 Media Outlets, Journalist Challenge IT Rules

The bench has given the petitioners liberty to approach the court for interim relief should they face coercive action under the scope of Rules 12, 14 and 16.

New Delhi: The Madras high court has issued notice in a petition challenging the new IT Rules, moved by 13 media outlets and a journalist.

Bar and Bench has reported that the high court bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy has attached the petition by the Digital News Publishers Association and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan with a pending plea moved by musician T.M. Krishna challenging the same Rules.

However, the petitioners’ counsel noted how Krishna’s plea concerned the Rules’ impingement on the right to privacy while the latest petition had to do with select Rules of the IT Rules.

The Digital News Publishers Association is made up of the following news companies: ABP Network Private Limited, Amar Ujala Limited, DB Corp Limited, Express Network Pvt Ltd, HT Digital Streams Limited, IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd, Jagran Prakashan Limited, Lokmat Media Private Limited, NDTV Convergence Limited, TV Today Network Limited, The Malayala Manorama Co (P) Ltd, Times Internet Limited, and Ushodaya Enterprises Private Limited.

The petitioners have pleaded against what they have called is a wrongful and arbitrary classification of “legacy media houses” as part of “digital media” to bring them under the IT Rules, without consultation with them but affecting unjustified oversight on their functioning.

“The IT Rules, 2021 seek to usher in an era of surveillance and fear, thereby resulting in self-censorship, which curtails the fundamental rights under the Constitution of India,” the petition also notes.

The bench has given the petitioners liberty to approach the court for interim relief should they face coercive action under the scope of Rules 12, 14 and 16.

Several digital media publications and editors – including The WireThe News Minute’s Dhanya Rajendran, The Wire’s M.K. Venu, The Quint, Pratidhvani and LiveLaw – have legally challenged the Centre’s decision to extend the IT Rules to digital media publications.

Also read: Why The Wire Wants the New IT Rules Struck Down

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, inter alia, seek to regulate digital news portals under Part III, by imposing government oversight and a ‘Code of Ethics’ on them, and therefore, go far beyond the object and scope of the IT Act, The Wire has observed.

Three United Nations’ special rapporteurs have also voiced concern that the Rules go against international human rights laws to which India is a signatory.

Appearing in court today, senior advocate P.S. Raman spoke on behalf of the petitioners’ concern on the inter-departmental body mandated by Rule 14, to which appeals against decisions by the self-regulatory mechanism – also mandated by the Rules – would have to go.

While the former body consists entirely of bureaucrats, the latter is to headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court or high court.

Raman also raised that Rule 16 (blocking of information in case of emergency). According to Bar and Bench, he pointed out that it was a “Henry the VIIIth”, “omnibus” provision.

Henry VIII” is reportedly a Westminster slang for legislation which confers on ministers the ability to amend Acts of parliament by regulation – an allegation that has been brought against the IT Rules too.

The court refused to issue an omnibus interim as no coercive action had been taken under this rule yet.

“However if such provisions are resorted to against the petitioners, petitioners will be at liberty to apply for interim relief,” the order stated.

The matter was listed for hearing in three weeks.