Chennai: The Madras High Court on Thursday withheld a key provision of the Information Technology Rules, 2021 from being operational, observing that such Acts would limit the media functioning, and thus become a debacle for the right to freedom of speech and expression, a critical feature of a democracy.
The Union government enacted the Information Technology Rules, 2021 in May to make social media and digital media platforms accountable for the content being circulated through it.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P D Audikesavulu felt the weight of the grievance expressed by the petitioner over the IT Rules which may pave the way for the government to rob media of its independence, and eventually the fourth pillar of the democracy may vanish.
The Bench stayed the operation of Rule 9(1) and 9(3) of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
"For understandable reasons, the petitioners are wary of the oversight mechanism of the Central Government as indicated in the final tier of the process of regulation," the Madras High Court said.
Rule 9 of the IT Rules prescribe a grievance redressal mechanism and sub-Section 1 establishes a portal to be set up by the Ministry of Information and Technology for receiving complaints against media platforms while under sub-Section 3, an acknowledgment of every complaint is generated within 24 hours of receiving the complaint, which is then referred to the media platform concerned and the IT ministry for record.
On August 14, the Bombay High Court also stayed the same provision, projecting the Acts as threats to the freedom of speech. The Bombay High Court viewed that the Rules do not comply with the aims and provisions of the IT Acts.
The Bombay High Court further said that the broad and vogue terms of the IT Rules can be misused or can use against the very right of freedom of speech and expression of writers/editors/publishers if a government authority wishes.
The Digital News Publishers Association, a grouping of 13 leading media companies in the country, has moved the Madras High Court challenging the provisions in the IT Rules. The consortium of digital media platform includes, ABP Network Private Limited, Amar Ujala Limited, DB Corp Limited, Express Network Pvt Ltd, HT Digital Streams Ltd, IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd, Jagran Prakashan Limited, Lokmat Media Private Limited, NDTV Convergence Limited, TV Today Network Limited, The Malayala Manorama Co (P) Ltd, Times Internet Limited and the Ushodaya Enterprises Private Limited.