The plea stated that the new IT rules are 'palpably illegal' and try to control and regulate digital news media.

Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad along with Union Minister for Environment Prakash Javadekar during a press conference, in New DelhiPTI
news Court Tuesday, March 09, 2021 - 13:18

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday issued a notice in a plea challenging the new Information Technology (Guidelines for intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The court was hearing a plea filed by the Foundation of Independent Journalism, The Wire's Founding Editor MK Venu, and The News Minute Editor-in-Chief Dhanya Rajendran. 

A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh issued notices to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Information and Technology, and granted them time to file their response.

The high court was hearing a petition filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, through The Wire's MK Venu, which said that the new IT Rules issued by the government on February 25 are palpably illegal in seeking to control and regulate digital news media when the parent statue IT Act nowhere provides for such a remit. The plea said it has profound and serious harms for digital news media, like the petitioner, and is destructive of their rights. It sought that the new IT rules be declared as “void and inoperative insofar as it defines and applies to publishers of news and current affairs content.”

The counsel for the petitioners argued that with this new law, it tries to revive the draconian Section 66-A which was in 2015 struck down by the Supreme Court. Section 66-A had criminalised sharing of “offensive information” online and was punishable with a maximum of three years in jail and with a fine.

“The new IT Rules issued last week on 25.02.2021 are palpably illegal in seeking control and regulate digital news media when the parent statute nowhere provides for such a remit. The same has profound and serious harms for digital news media such as the Petitioners and destructive of their rights,” the petition filed in the Delhi High Court says. 

“The IT Rules, 2021 expand the scope of the Act even further by providing for a Code of Ethics and a three-tier regulatory system to administer a loose-ranging Code of Ethics, that contains wide and vague terms as ‘half-truths’, ‘good taste’, ‘decency’. Therefore, such an oversight includes and extends far beyond categories of content as provided for under Section 66-A, which was struck down,” the petition adds. 

The court noted the submissions made by the petitioner’s counsel and issued a notice seeking the Union government’s response. The case will further be heard on April 16. 

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