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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

No HC relief to digital news portals seeking stay on IT rules

The petitions challenging the IT Rules have been filed by Quint Digital Media Limited and its director; Foundation for Independent Journalism which publishes The Wire; Pravda Media Foundation which owns Alt News, and others.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: June 29, 2021 4:04:59 am
The Delhi High Court

OBSERVING that there was “no question” of the vacation bench granting them interim relief, the Delhi High Court on Monday declined to pass any order in favour of the digital news portals seeking a stay on the applicability of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 on digital news media.

The petitioners challenging the IT rules in the HC are 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. Though the case is listed for hearing on August 4, the petitioners last week approached the HC, which is currently on the annual summer break, in the wake of a recent communication received by them from the Centre warning of coercive action in case of non-compliance of the rules.

The vacation bench of Justice C Hari Shankar and Justice Subramonium Prasad said that the May 28 notice — asking digital news portals to comply with the rules — of the Central government is only for implementation of the rules, and the petitioners have not been able to get a stay against the rules from the roster bench despite the case being taken up by the latter at least on two dates.

The court listed applications seeking protection from coercive action for July 7 before the roster bench.

In the petition filed by Quint, it has been argued that the executive power to virtually dictate content to digital news portals would squarely violate Article 14 and 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution. The petition also argued that the rules create a space for the state to enter and control news by way of deletion, modification or blocking, censure, compelled apology and more. Similar arguments have been made in other petitions.

Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan, representing the petitioners, on Monday submitted that the digital news portals on June 18 were warned that “consequences will follow” unless they comply with the rules, and argued that the Centre cannot sit in judgement over content of news media.

Ramakrishnan also submitted that the portals have told the Centre they are willing to engage with it, and there is no need for coercive action when the information the government is seeking is in the public domain.

“When they are threatening coercive action, I’m certainly entitled to come to your lordships,” submitted Ramakrishnan. However, the court said it was not in agreement with the submissions.

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