News Broadcasters Association moves Kerala HC against new IT rules

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has filed a petition in the Kerala High Court challenging the new IT rules on the grounds that they violate the freedom of speech and expression of the media under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

In a statement, the NBA said the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, are ultra vires to the Information Technology Act, 2000 apart from being violative of Article 14 (equality before law) and 19(1)(g) (right to freedom to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the Constitution.

It said the challenge is to Part III (Code of Ethics and Procedure and Safeguards in relation to Digital Media) of the IT rules as they create an "oversight mechanism giving the executive unfettered, unbridled and excessive powers to regulate content of digital news media".

"The grievance redressal mechanism created and the powers delegated have a 'chilling effect' on the content of the media. The writ (petition) also states that the executive by creating such a structure, has made inroads into judicial power and vested itself with powers reserved exclusively for the judiciary and such exercise of power is without jurisdiction," the statement said.

It said the petition has also challenged the new rules as the IT Act does not contain any provision for dealing with "content" of any programme and therefore, the rules are ultra vires the parent Act.

"The rules violate Article 14 as there is neither any parity nor any valid exercise of classification in the rules as 'intermediaries' have been equated with 'digital news media'," it said, adding that the appendix of the rules - "Code of Ethics" makes the Programme Code applicable to the digital news media.

The Programme Code contains vague, imprecise and ambiguous terms in relation to "content" such as "good taste", "snobbish attitude" and therefore, is not in consonance with judgment of the Supreme Court.

Several digital news media platforms have already challenged the 2021 IT rules in various high courts and even the Centre has approached the Supreme Court seeking to transfer all such pleas to itself.

The new IT rules regulate the functioning of online media portals and publishers, over-the-top (OTT) platforms and social media intermediaries. According to the rules, a 'significant social media intermediary' has some additional obligations in comparison to other social media intermediaries.

(With inputs Agencies)

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