MADRAS High Court on Monday called on the central government not to take any coercive action against digital media companies that are members of the Indian Broadcasters and the Digital Media Foundation, under key provisions of the new IT rules of 2021, without asking its authorization.
Hearing a plea filed by the Foundation, two justices of the Acting Chief Justice, Judge Munishwar Nath Bhandari, and Judge PD Audikesavalu stated that the Center is “prohibited from taking coercive measures against applicants without seeking permission to the courtyard “. The next case will be heard on January 25, 2022.
In June, the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) – a collective of 13 members of the country’s largest news media companies – approached Madras HC to challenge the constitutional validity of the information technology rules (guidelines intermediaries and code of ethics for digital media), 2021.
Formed in 2018, the DNPA includes: IE Online Media Services by The Indian Express Group, ABP Network, Amar Ujala, Dainik Bhaskar Corp, Express Network, HT Digital Streams, Jagran Prakashan, Lokmat Media, NDTV Convergence, TV Today Network, The Malayala Manorama, Times Internet Limited, and Ushodaya Enterprises.
The DNPA petition argued that these rules violate Articles 14 (equality), 19 (1) (a) and 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution relating to the right to freedom of speech and expression and to right to the profession.
During the first hearing into the case, a bench of Madras-era Chief Justice Judge Sanjib Banerjee and Judge Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy recorded the applicants’ argument that there was “sufficient basis for … The apprehension that coercive and abusive measures could be taken ”.
In September, during a hearing, the HC suspended the application of a key provision of the IT rules of 2021, which put in place a monitoring mechanism by the Center to regulate social media and digital media platforms. .
“At first glance, the petitioner’s complaint is based on the fact that the government’s control mechanism for the media could deprive the media of their independence…”, noted the judiciary.
Monday’s order is the fourth instance of an HC moving from such directions. Previously, the Bombay HC suspended rules 9 (1) and 9 (3), claiming they were “patently unreasonable and went beyond the computer law”. A separate bench from Madras HC as well as Kerala HC have asked the Center not to take coercive measures.
Rule 9 prescribes a grievance mechanism. Subsection 1 establishes a portal to be set up by the Ministry of Information and Technology to receive complaints. Subsection 3 requires an acknowledgment of receipt of any complaint within 24 hours of receipt and forwarded to the relevant media platform and to the Ministry of Informatics for registration.