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

Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan had addressed the division bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel on behalf of the Foundation for Independent Journalism and others

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Mar 10, 2021 8:58 AM
delhi hc

The Delhi High Court Tuesday issued notice to the union government on a plea challenging the Information Technology (Guidelines For Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 which bring social media, digital news and over the top (OTT) platforms under the regulatory framework.
The plea was filed by Foundation for Independent Journalism, a non-profit company that owns 'The Wire', Founder and Editor-in-Chief of 'The News Minute' Dhanya Rajendran and Founding Editor of 'The Wire' MK Venu. The matter was heard by a division bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel.

According to a media report, Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, who was appearing for Foundation for Independent Journalism and others, argued that despite the Supreme Court striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the Centre has now brought out these Rules to do indirectly what it cannot do directly. Ramakrishnan noted that Section 66A had similar provisions for regulating content.

She also contended that the rules, issued in the exercise of powers under Section 69A of the IT Act, cannot be made applicable to news media. She further stated that Section 69A comes into play only on specific grounds and it is limited to issuing directions to the intermediary and not to a news publisher.

The bench asked Ramakrishnan as to who would qualify as intermediaries, she responded by saying that Google, Facebook, Twitter and ISPs like Airtel qualify as intermediaries.

The petition challenges the IT Rules, 2021 only in so far as they affect digital news portals, and is not with reference to ‘publishers of online curated content’, i.e., OTT media platforms or any other entities sought to be regulated by the Impugned Rules.

The petition also states that the Press Council Act, 1978 is a statute with express provisions to regulate newspapers and that too without Government interference. The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, contains express provisions to impose a programme code and for cable television to be regulated by the Central Government.

By contrast, the Information Technology Act neither intends to nor provides for the imposition of a programme code, or regulation of news portals in any manner. Yet, this is sought to be done through subordinate legislation, the IT Rules, 2021, it noted.

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