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‘Govt may rob the media of its independence’: HC stays sub-clauses of IT rules

In an ominous observation, the Madras High Court on Thursday, 16 September, while putting on hold key sections of the new Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021, said, “Prima facie there is substance that the oversight mechanism to control the media by the government may rob the media of its independence and the fourth pillar of the democracy may not be there at all”, NDTV reported.

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After Bombay High Court last month, the Madras High Court is the second high court to put key sections of the IT Rules on hold.

The court said on Thursday, “By way of abundant caution, sub-rules 1 and 3 of Rule 9 of the said Rules of 2021 will remain stayed.”

Background
The Bombay High Court, on 14 August, had stayed Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the controversial new IT Rules enacted in 2021, which required digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a ‘Code of Ethics’ prescribed by the government, and follow a three-tiered grievance redressal mechanism.

Creating an oversight mechanism which consists of government officials will, the petitioners allege, result in the interference by the state in the editorial functioning of the media.

Meanwhile, other rules challenged by the petitioners, including for the setting up of an inter-ministerial committee under the grievance mechanism, penalties for non-compliance with the rules, and blocking access to content, remain in force.

Conversely, several courts have already said that no coercive action can be taken against publishers who have not implemented the rules, NDTV reported.

The Supreme Court is currently considering a plea to consolidate all the different petitions against the IT Rules across the country into one case before the apex court itself, to prevent multiplicity of orders.

The plea had been filed by the union government, days after the Bombay High Court order.

The Madras High Court’s order came over two petitions filed by Carnatic musician TM Krishna and the Digital News Publishers Association, and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan.

The petitioners have argued that despite the Bombay High Court putting the provisions on hold, the government had issued notices seeking compliance to media outlets. They added that the second high court order will hopefully force the government to drop the move. The Quint

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