Will 'Prevent Misuse of Freedom of Press': Centre Defends New IT Rules
The new IT Rules seek to impose a ‘Code of Ethics’ on digital news publications and regulate their functioning.
Defending the constitutional validity of the new Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021, before the Delhi High Court, the Centre claimed that the rules seek to "prevent the misuse of the freedom of press" and protect citizens from fake news in the digital media space.
The Centre, in its counter affidavit said that although the right to freedom of speech and expression, including the freedom of press, is critical for a vibrant democracy like India, citizens "cannot be treated as passive consumers", news agency PTI reported.
The new IT Rules, issued under the Information Technology Act, 2000, seek to impose a ‘Code of Ethics’ on digital news publications and regulate their functioning.
Concerned about the IT Rules, the Editors’ Guild of India had said in a statement in March:
“They empower the Union government to block, delete, or modify published news anywhere in the country without any judicial oversight and mandate all publishers to establish a grievance redressal mechanism. Various provisions in these rules can place unreasonable restrictions on digital news media, and consequently media at large.”
Digital Media and Fake News
The Centre claimed in the high court that digital media "allows sensational content being re-circulated in a different context leading to misinterpretation by the audience", and pointed out that there have been "past incidents of disinformation on digital media leading to disturbance of public order", PTI reported.
The affidavit was filed jointly by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
The affidavit further said:
"IT Rules seek to prevent the misuse of the freedom of press by empowering the audience with a mechanism to raise their grievances related to the content being published by the digital news publishers through a grievance redressal mechanism with an emphasis on the self-regulatory architecture for digital news publishers, and are therefore not only within the ambit of the Act, but also fulfil the object sought to be achieved by the (IT) Act."
Centre’s affidavit also claimed that there was a discriminatory imbalance within the news media ecosystem with respect to content on traditional media.
Describing the digital media space, the Centre said, "It is an economic environment marked by competition for eye-balls and regulatory vacuum with respect to the content on digital media has led to spread fake news and other potentially harmful content without any accountability of digital news publishers” PTI reported.
The Centre also informed the high court that over 1,800 digital media publishers have appointed a Grievance Redressal Officer (Level-I), and furnished their information to the Ministry.
The high court had issued notices and sought responses of the Centre on the petitions by Foundation for Independent Journalism, The Wire, The Quint Digital Media Ltd, and Pravda Media Foundation, which is the parent company of Alt News.
Notably, the pleas sought striking down of the specific part of the IT Rules on the ground that it violates Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution creating a “chilling effect on media freedom”, PTI reported.
(With inputs from PTI)
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