THE DELHI High Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the Centre on a petition filed by Press Trust of India alleging that the IT Rules, 2021 usher in an “era of surveillance and fear” which will result in self-censorship. Challenging the constitutional validity of the rules, the country’s largest news agency argued that the rules would only aid in targeting the publishers of news and current affairs content.
A division bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice J R Midha issued the notice and listed it for hearing on August 20. Similar petitions challenging the applicability of IT Rules to digital media are also pending in the High Court.
The petition filed through advocates Wasim Beg and Swarnendu Chatterjee argued that Part III of the Rules imposes government oversight on digital news portals, a ‘Code of Ethics’ which stipulates “vague conditions” such as “good taste”, “decency”, prohibition of “half-truths”, and “draconian” consequences for perceived non-compliance.
“The Central Government (the Executive) … vide the ‘IMPUGNED RULES’ would virtually dictate the content of the digital news portals and the rules would only aid in targeting a specific class, inter alia ‘Publishers of News and Current Affairs content’. This would clearly and ·squarely violate Article 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” said the petition. “These rules are only meant to be a weapon for the Executive or the State to enter and directly control the content of online digital news portal.”
Meanwhile, the division bench of Chief Justice Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh refused to grant interim relief in the petitions filed by Quint Digital Media Limited and its director Ritu Kapur; Foundation for Independent Journalism which publishes The Wire; Pravda Media Foundation, which owns the fact-checking website Alt News, and others.
The Centre also informed the court that it has moved a petition before the Supreme Court for transfer of all petitions challenging the IT rules before different High Courts. While directing the Centre to file a reply in the cases, the court listed them for hearing on August 20.