'Violative of Constitution': PTI Challenges New IT Rules in Delhi HC
India's largest news agency, Press Trust of India, has legally challenged the IT regulations introduced in February.
India's largest news agency, Press Trust of India (PTI), has legally challenged the new IT regulations that were introduced in February 2021, asserting that they deviate from the provisions of the Constitution.
In its plea submitted to the Delhi High Court, PTI has said that the new rules allow the government to “virtually dictate content to digital news portals, and squarely violate media freedom,” The Hindu reported.
Indicating that the regulations are violative of the Constitution's provisions, PTI argued in its petition that the rules “introduce digital portals with ‘news and current affairs content’ as a specific and targeted class to be subject to regulation by a loose-ranging ‘Code of Ethics’, and to be consummately overseen by Central Government officers, all of which is violative... of the Constitution.”
According to a Forbes report, PTI has further said that the Code of Ethics is “draconian” and that the Rules “usher in an era of surveillance and fear.”
In its petition, the news agency also noted that the newly-introduced regulations go beyond the scope of the IT Act of the Constitution.
The IT Act only calls for a regulation of content related to child pornography, sexually explicit material and cyber terrorism.
“The IT rules, 2021 have been challenged and must be tested on the well established Constitutional principles,” lawyers Wasim Beg and Swarnendu Chatterjee, representing PTI, said in the court, The Hindu reported.
The plea was heard by a bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice JR Midha, who have sent a notice to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in relation to the petition.
The New IT Rules
Announcing drastic changes in the new rules for social media companies and a code of ethics for OTT streaming platforms as well as digital news media, Union Ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar, on 25 February, said they “are empowering the ordinary users of social media.”
The 30-page document, titled ‘Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021’, places a host of strict obligations on online platforms and provides for a three-tier mechanism for regulation of all online media, which confers blocking powers to an inter-ministerial committee.
The new IT rules came into effect on 26 May 2021.
Petitions Against The IT Rules
Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA), a 13-member collective of the country’s biggest news media companies, on 23 June, challenged the constitutional validity of the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The petition furthered by the collective had contended that these rules violate Articles 14, 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution (equality, right to freedom of speech and expression, and right to profession).
HT Digital Streams Limited, NDTV Convergence Limited, Times Internet Limited, are part of DNPA, among other news organisations.
The Quint on 19 March had moved the Delhi High Court, challenging the regulation of digital news portals under the IT Rules 2021.
Calling the regulation of digital news under the IT Act framework "unconstitutional", the petitioner organisation said that the new rules have a “chilling effect on media freedom.”
Several other news organisations, including The Wire and LiveLaw, had also filed similar petitions against the IT regulations.
(With inputs from The Hindu and Forbes)
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