In Problem To New IT Guidelines, Bombay Excessive Court docket Win For Information Publishers

News publishers say existing laws provide criminal prosecution for breaking rules

Mumbai:

Provisions of the government’s new information technology rules for news publishers dealing with a code of ethics have been put on hold by the Bombay High Court as the requirements violate freedom of expression. The rules had been challenged by news publishers in several courts in the country.

The Supreme Court on Saturday held out Clauses 9 (1) and 9 (3) of the Information Technology Rules 2021 for digital media, which relate to compliance with the Code of Ethics, PTI news agency reported.

It found “prima facie” (at first sight) that these sub-clauses violated the petitioners’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, the Supreme Court said.

The provisions of Section 9 also went beyond the scope of substantive law (Information Technology Act of 2000), it said.

The order came on the basis of petitions from legal news portal The Leaflet and journalist Nikhil Wagle, who challenged several provisions of the new IT rules, claiming they were vague and likely to have a “deterrent effect” on citizens’ constitutional rights on freedom of expression.

Last month, as a backlash to the government, the Supreme Court refused to prevent various courts from challenging the new rules introduced by the center in February.

News publishers claim the new rules violate basic constitutional rights, including freedom of the press, and are designed to give the government far closer access to online news content. This large and growing area needs more regulation, countered the government.

The IT rules were extensively defended by former information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and former minister for information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar; both men were removed from cabinet after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a major overhaul of his Council of Ministers last month.

The new IT rules, according to the government, are required to regulate content on social media and ensure that all online messages are compliant with the law. New requirements include companies like WhatsApp breaking end-to-end encryption to determine who was the first to send (or forward a message) content that threatened national security.

The government says this demand is being made sparingly; WhatApp has challenged this part of the new laws in court, arguing that doing so would violate the privacy of its users and that a law like this would require parliamentary approval.

The IT rules also controversially state that a committee of ministers has a final right of veto on content that is viewed as problematic for law and order or security and can order its removal.

News publishers have argued that existing laws already provide for criminal prosecution if they violate rules on posting child pornography or post content that incites hatred or violence in the community, etc.

They say they are adequately run by self-regulatory bodies run by former Supreme Court judges; Giving the government final authority to decide on sanctions or the removal of content interferes with judicial and impartial oversight.

The IT rules were challenged in the Kerala High Court last month by the News Broadcasters Association, which is made up of some of the largest news networks in the country. The court issued an injunction in favor of the publishers, demanding that no coercive measures should be taken against them if they do not adhere to the IT rules for the time being. Other news industry and media associations have filed similar appeals in other courts.

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