India's largest news agency, Press Trust of India (PTI), has moved the Delhi High Court, against the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
A bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice J.R. Midha issued notice on PTI's plea to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
The news agency contended the Central government was attempting to regulate digital news media by imposing "sweeping" government oversight, and a vaguely worded 'Code of Ethics'. Challenging the constitutional validity of the rules, the news agency contended that it attempts to regulate publishers of news and current affairs content', particularly digital news portals. The rules were notified on February 25, 2021.
The plea argued the rules usher-in an era of surveillance and fear, thereby resulting in self-censorship, which results in abridgment/violation of fundamental rights, enshrined under Part III of the Constitution.
The plea contended that these rules virtually allow the government to dictate content to digital news portals, which completely violate media freedom.
The news agency submitted that the rules went beyond the object and scope of the IT Act, and emphasized that as the content, which was supposed to be regulated by the IT Act, as offences, was limited to sexually explicit material, child pornography, showing private parts of individuals, cyber terrorism, etc. The plea added these offences were to be prosecuted and tried by normal courts.
"They introduce 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 Central Government officers, all of which is violative... of the Constitution", states the plea.
PTI contended that it seeks no safe harbour and is not entitled to any safe harbour provisions for the content that it hosts and publishes, and it takes full responsibility for the content it publishes.
The High Court has tagged the plea, with similar pleas filed by other digital news outlets like, The Wire, The Quint etc., The court will take up these petitions for hearing on August 20.