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Delhi HC tells Centre to file reply on media houses’ plea against new IT rules

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Centre to file its reply to pleas by digital media houses challenging the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries And Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The petitioners have challenged the new IT Rules on the common ground that they give the Centre pervasive control over news content.

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The Centre asked for time, contending that a transfer petition is pending in the Supreme Court for similar petitions in other High Courts. The petitioners, represented by Nitya Ramakrishnan, argued that the Centre should at least file a reply considering that even notices have not been issued on the transfer petition yet. There is no stay on the High Court proceedings and the Kerala High Court has passed orders restraining coercive action under the IT Rules against certain media houses.

A division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh posted the matter for hearing on August 20 with directions to the Centre to file its reply by then.

The petitions listed on Wednesday had been filed by The Quint, Pravda Media Foundation which publishes AltNews and The Wire. The Madras High Court too is hearing a similar petition filed by a larger group of publishing houses under the aegis of Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA).

Pravda Media Foundation has argued that the new IT Rules, “virtually dictate” content to news portals and are thus violative of Article 14 and 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which provide for equality before law and freedom of speech and expression. “The IT Rules, 2021 for the first time introduce a category being digital portals with ‘news and current affairs content’ as a specific and targeted class to be subject to regulation by a loose-ranging ‘Code of Ethics’ and to be consummately overseen by the respondents (the Centre). Upon a complaint, the State has the power to enter and control news and views by way of deletion, modification or blocking, censure, compelled apology and more,” said the petition by the AltNews publishers.

The DNPA, which includes Dainik Bhaskar, India Today Group, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Times of India, Eenadu, Amar Ujala, Dainik Jagran and Malayala Manorama, has moved the Madras High Court contending that the new IT Rules seek to curb the freedom of speech and expression as well as freedom of press by proscribing content on the basis of “vague and subjective grounds”. “The new IT Rules seek to usher in an era of surveillance and fear, thereby resulting in self-censorship which curtails the fundamental rights as envisaged under the Constitution,” the DNPA petition reads. The Hindubusiness Line

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