Addressing the plea filed by the Digital News Publishers Association and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan the Madras High Court on Wednesday issued a notice. The petitioners point out that the ‘legacy media’, like newspapers or news channels that merely have an online presence should be excluded from the modified IT act.
It said that organizations that restrict themselves to digital platforms will come under the ambit of new information technology rules.
The Digital News Publishers consist of 12 digital media outlets.
A bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy tagged the matter with the June 10 writ petition of Carnatic musician TM Krishna.
Krishna has also moved the High Court, questioning the constitutional validity of the new information technology rules.
Referring to the legacy media and the role it has played in the history o India, the petitioner argues that combining them with digital media is callous.
The petition said, “That it needs no mention that the print newspaper media along with television broadcast media has long remained the fourth pillar of democracy in the country since independence,” the plea read.
“To now paint the said media houses in the same vein as ‘digital media’ is wholly arbitrary as it seeks to impose onerous compliances on such media houses.”
The plea also criticized the new IT rules. It said that part three of the rules imposed “arbitrary, unjustified, undue and unfair oversight into the acts” of the members of the Digital News Publishers Association.
“…which opens the door to suppressing freedom of speech and the independence of news media in the country, which has been upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in a catena of judgments,” the petition said.
According to Live Law, the petitioners also pointed out that the “publisher of news and current affairs content” would be regulated under part three of the new information technology rules.
“…the IT Rules 2021 have created a distinction that is vague and arbitrary, and which has no reasonable or rational nexus with the purported object which it purportedly seeks to achieve,” the petition said.
What are these new IT rules and who are opposing them?
Announced in February and got implemented in May, the new information technology rules regulate social media companies, Ott platforms, and digital news content. This move brings them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
Among other things, the “Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021” regulations require these platforms to appoint chief compliance officers. This is to make sure the rules are followed, nodal officers, coordinate with law enforcement agencies, and grievance officers. All of them should be based in India. It also requires social media platforms with over 50 lakh users to help in identifying the “originator” of messages upon the government’s request.
Twitter has been summoned for not appointing a chief compliance officer yet. The social media company had said it was concerned about the “potential threat” to freedom of expression as India’s new social media rules came into effect. The company had added that it will “strive to comply with applicable law” in India, but will be strictly guided by the principles of transparency.
Besides the Madras High Court, the Delhi, Karnataka, and Kerala High Courts have admitted pleas to consider the validity of the new rules.
Digital news platform, the Wire had moved the Delhi High Court in March, arguing that even though the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which had similar provisions to regulate content, the Centre introduced the new rules to “do indirectly what it cannot do directly.”
In the same month, the Quint also moved to the Delhi High Court, submitting that the rules are “meant to be a ruse for the state to enter and directly control the content of digital news portals”.
The Kerala High Court had restrained the Centre from taking coercive action against Live Law under the new digital media rules in March. Kannada news portal Pratidhwani also approached the Karnataka High Court in the same month against the rules.
In May, more digital entities like messaging platform WhatsApp moved to the Delhi High Court challenging a provision under the new social media rules, which mandates the company to identify the “first originator of information” when authorities demand it.
In June, Alphabet Inc’s Google had moved the Delhi High Court, saying that the new rules for digital media were not applicable to the search engine.