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Digital news portal The Leaflet told the Bombay High Court on Thursday that the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 were an "assault on the fundamental right of freedom of speech".

The portal last week filed petition in the high court, challenging the new IT Rules as being violative of Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (a) (freedom of speech and expression) and 19 (1) (g) (freedom to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business).

Senior counsel Darius Khambata, appearing for The Leaflet, on Thursday told a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni that the rules had a "chilling effect on the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution".

"They (rules) are an assault on the fundamental right of freedom of speech. The rules say if news organisations do not follow the code of ethics, then they are open to face prosecution," Khambata said.

Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, appearing for the Union government, told the bench that there are a total of 10 petitions filed in different high courts across the country. Hence, the Centre has filed a plea in the Supreme Court, seeking for all the petitions to be transferred to the apex court.

"The SC is scheduled to hear the transfer petition on July 9," Singh said.

The court then posted the petitions for hearing on July 16.

Khambata argued that the rules are ultra vires to the Information Technology Act-2000, which does not provide for anything which either seeks to regulate or enable regulation of the ethics and digital content of online publishers.

Senior journalist Nikhil Wagle has also filed a public interest litigation, challenging the rules on the ground that they were arbitrary and illegal.

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