Truth Pro Foundation India (TPFI), the non-profit company that runs Pratidhvani, an independent Kannada news portal, has challenged the new Information Technology Rules which seek to regulate digital news media in the Karnataka high court.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, the petition alleges, are ultra vires the IT Act, under which they have been framed. The rules also impose vague and subjective grounds for regulation, it continues.
Pratidhvani is the fourth digital news publication to legally challenge the new IT rules, after The Wire, LiveLaw and The Quint.
In a brief summary provided at the start of the petition, Pratidhvani has laid out why it is challenging the new rules:
“The present Petition challenges the… [IT Rules, 2021] as being ultra vires the new Information Technology Act, 2000… in as much as they set up a classification of ‘publishers of news and current affairs content’ (“digital news portals”) as part of ‘digital media’, and seek to regulate these news portals under Part III of the Rules… by imposing Government oversight and a ‘Code of Ethics’, which stipulates such vague conditions as ‘good taste’, ‘decency’, etc. – matter nowhere within the contemplation of the parent Act.
The Impugned Rules are ultra vires the parent Act on the following ground:
i. They purport to virtually legislate on the conduct of entities, not even within the purview of the parent Act.
ii. They travel beyond the specific enabling Sections and introduce new concepts and regulations.
iii. They attempt to proscribe content on the basis of vague and subjective grounds which the Supreme Court has already voided when it struck down Section 66-A of the parent Act in Shreya Singhal.”
The petition says it is only challenging the IT Rules as they affect digital news portals, and not OTT platforms or other entities.
The Foundation for Independent Journalism (which runs The Wire), its founding editor M.K. Venu and The NewsMinute editor Dhanya Rajendran had together filed the first legal challenge to the new IT rules. On March 9, the Delhi high court issued notice to the Centre on this petition, which argues that “The Impugned Part of the Rules, to the extent that it seeks to achieve such special regulation or control of digital media including online news platforms, is manifestly ultra vires the parent Act”. The date for the next hearing is April 16.
LiveLaw, a legal news website, has also challenged the rules in the Kerala high court. The petition said the rules notified on February 25 impose “arbitrary, vague, disproportionate and unreasonable” restrictions on digital news media and social media intermediaries.
The Quint too has challenged the rules in the Delhi high court. On March 19, the bench issued notice to the Centre on this petition. The Quint has said in its petition, “Not only is it impermissible for subordinate legislation to go beyond the purpose of the parent Act, it is far worse that it does so in a manner that affects Fundamental Rights vitally. This is precisely what the IT Rules, 2021 do.”