The Leaflet challenges constitutional validity of IT Rules 2021 in Bombay HC

The Leaflet contributing editor Ashish Khetan is a co-petitioner

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jul 7, 2021 6:53 PM
The Leaflet

Digital news web portal The Leaflet has moved Bombay High Court challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The platform has contended that the IT Rules 2021 are violative of Articles 14 (right to equality), Article 19(a) (freedom of speech and expression), and 19(1)(g) (freedom to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business).

The Leaflet contributing editor Ashish Khetan is a co-petitioner.

In its petition, The Leaflet has contended that the new IT Rules 2021 are beyond the rulemaking power of the Central Government as the parent Act i.e. Information Technology Act, 2000 does not provide for anything which either seeks to regulate or enables the regulation of the ethics and digital content of online publishers.

Apart from a single provision that enables the blocking of content available online on specified grounds, there is nothing in the IT Act that seeks to regulate content, in particular, the content of news publishers, it added.

The Leaflet contends that the IT Rules 2021 impose unreasonable, excessive, and tenuous burdens on digital news publishers, which are designed to restrict and narrow the scope of reporting undertaken by such publishers and place unfeasible economic hardship on them, thereby imposing a disproportionate burden that directly violates the rights of the press that are protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.

It also stated that the IT Rules 2021 contain provisions that enable the Government, and/or its representatives, to direct the modification of the content published by such news publishers, without any limitations or guidelines for the exercise of this power, thereby empowering the State to dictate and direct what is being published by the press, which amounts a gross violation of the freedom of the press.

The petition also argues that the new IT rules are exceedingly vague, purport to bring digital publishers of news and current affairs content under the purview of the Press Council of India Act, 1978 and the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 without amending the said legislations, and also enable exercise of judicial functions by non-judicial authorities, thereby violating the doctrine of separation of powers.

The plea also stated that the IT Rules create a mechanism by which the content distribution networks operated by intermediary technology platforms, on which many digital news publishers rely on to reach their audiences, are subject to stringent take down mechanisms and censorship obligations based on vague criteria, thereby directly affecting both the freedom of speech and freedom of trade of digital news publishers.

Meanwhile, senior journalist Nikhil Wagle has also filed a PIL before the Bombay High Court. Describing the rules as arbitrary, illegal and against the principle of net neutrality, the PIL seeks a stay on the IT Rules.

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