The Delhi High Court on Monday refused to stay the Centre’s May 28 notice requiring digital news portals to comply with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, stating that the vacation bench would not grant any interim relief to the petitioners. Quint Digital Media Limited and its director Ritu Kapur, the Foundation for Independent Journalism, which publishes The Wire, the Pravda Media Foundation, which runs the fact-checking website Alt News, and others are among the petitioners contesting the IT Rules in the Delhi High Court.
The vacation bench of Justice C Hari Shankar and Justice Subramonium Prasad stated that the latest notice is purely for the purposes of enforcing the rules, and that the petitioners have been unable to obtain a stay from the roster bench.
“You’ve challenged the Rules, made an interim application for stay of the Rules; that application has come before the division bench on at least two occasions. The action they are taking now is only implementation of those Rules. You’ve not made a case that the notice is contrary to the Rules,” observed the court. “The IT Rules, 2021 introduce digital portals with ‘news and current affairs content’ as a specific and targeted class to be subject to regulation by a loose-ranging ‘Code of Ethics’ and to be consummately overseen by Central Government officers,” reads the petition.
The petition also claims that the Rules allow the government to enter and control news through deletion, modification, or blocking, as well as censure, compelled apology, and other means. It continues, “Clubbing online news portals with social media as opposed to print news media is an unfair and nonsensical categorisation.” Senior Advocate Nitya Ramakrishna, who is representing the petitioners, stated on Monday that digital news portals were warned on June 18 that “consequences will follow” if they do not respect the guidelines, and that the central government cannot sit in judgement over news media content. Ramakrishna further said that the portals have indicated that they are eager to work with the government, and that there is no need for coercion when the material the government seeks is already in the public domain.