“May Rob Media’s Independence”: 2nd High Court Setback For New IT Rules

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Key sections of the country’s new Information Technology rules that seek to regulate digital media outlets were put on hold on Thursday by the Madras High Court, which became the second court to do so after the Bombay High Court last month.
“Prima facie there is substance that the oversight mechanism to control the media by the government may rob the media of its independence and the fourth pillar of the democracy may not be there at all,” the Madras High Court said.

“By way of abundant caution, sub-rules 1 and 3 of Rule 9 of the said Rules of 2021 will remain stayed,” it added.

Put on hold by the Bombay High Court on August 16, Clauses 1 and 3 of Rule 9 require digital media outlets to follow the code of conduct laid down by the Press Council of India and the country’s cable TV code which includes provisions of government oversight.

The petitioners allege that creating an oversight mechanism consisting of government officials will result in the state’s interference in the editorial functioning of the media.

Various petitions against the new rules have been pending in different high courts across the country. Several courts have already said that no coercive action can be taken against publishers who have not implemented the rules. The relief to the publications remains in place for now.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court said it will consider transferring to itself all cases linked to the new rules and giving them a combined hearing. The plea came from the centre, which filed a transfer petition days after the Bombay High Court order.

The Madras High Court’s order on Thursday came over two petitions filed by Carnatic musician TM Krishna and the Digital News Publishers Association, comprising thirteen media outlets, and journalist Mukund Padmanabhan.

The petitioners argued that despite the Bombay High Court putting the provisions on hold over a different case, the government had issued notices seeking compliance to media outlets. They hope the second High Court order will force the government to drop the move.

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