New Delhi: News agency Press Trust of India (PTI) moved a fresh petition before the Delhi High Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The petition raises a restricted challenge to the rules, only insofar as they affect digital news portal, and is not with reference to “publishers of online curated content” or OTT media platforms or any other entities sought to be regulated by the new guidelines.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D.N. Patel Tuesday issued notices on PTI’s plea that assails the rules on the ground they usher in an “era of surveillance and fear,” resulting in self-censorship and violation of fundamental rights. Response to the petition has been sought from the Ministry of Electronics and Information and Technology and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
PTI’s petition was also tagged with similar pleas moved by other online news portals, including The Wire and The Quint, and would be heard on 20 August. The court had Tuesday declined to give any interim relief on these petitions, after it was informed by the central government counsel that nearly 1,200 digital media houses, including independent publishers had already complied with the rules and submitted details as required.
Significantly, the central government has moved the Supreme Court seeking transfer of all petitions challenging the controversial IT rules to avoid multiplicity of proceedings related to the issue. According to the Centre’s submissions several petitions have been filed in various high courts such as Delhi, Bombay, Madras, and Kerala, with some issuing notices to the Centre.
Given that the contentions raised before the HCs are similar in nature, the Centre wants the top court to exercise its jurisdiction to settle the dispute and avoid a situation where possible conflicting views by the HCs could lead to confusion over the validity of the rules.
Need to distinguish between news outlets & intermediaries
In its plea before the HC, PTI has drawn a distinction between news outlets and intermediaries to submit that the latter need to be separately regulated. The intermediaries, it added, were immunised from consequences for hosting content, while being a news agency, PTI is not entitled to any safe harbour, the petition added.
Further, PTI stated, it is not seeking safe harbour and takes full responsibility for the content it publishes on its website.