The Delhi High Court on Monday issued a notice on a petition challenging the new rules issued by the Narendra Modi government to regulate digital news platforms, reported.
The plea was filed by the Foundation for Independent Journalism, parent trust of the Wire, and heard by a bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh. Dhanya Rajendran, editor of the News Minute, and MK Venu, a founding editor of the Wire, are the other petitioners in the matter.
Nitya Ramakrishnan, appearing for the petitioners, argued that the Modi government had brought the new rules to indirectly do what Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was meant to do. Section 66A, which had similar provisions for regulating digital content, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015.
The Information Technology Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules, 2021, were introduced on February 25. Besides digital news, they aim to regulate content on social media and OTT streaming platforms, bringing them under the purview of the government for the first time.
The rules require digital platforms to furnish details of ownership and editorial leadership and appoint a grievance redress officer. Digipub News India Foundation, a representative association of digital news organisations, including the Wire, had earlier written to the government taking exception to “some specifics” of the rules.
In a letter to Prakash Javadekar, minister for I&B, and Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for electronics and IT, the foundation had argued that the rules “appear to go against the fundamental principle of news and its role in a democracy”. The Editors Guild of India wrote to the government saying the new rules would "seriously undermine” media freedom in India.
After the notification of the rules, Sidharth Varadarajan, founding editor of the Wire, had told LiveLaw: "On a quick reading, the burdens being placed on publishers of digital news go beyond the basic restrictions on freedom of speech (and thus freedom of the press) envisaged by Article 19 and are therefore ultra vires the Constitution. Digital publishers are already subject to Article 19 restrictions and the numerous defamation cases filed against them, not to speak of various criminal cases, are proof of how existing laws are being used (or abused) in order to regulate digital media.”