No action for not complying with IT rules: Kerala high court
The Kerala high court on Friday restrained the Centre from taking any coercive action against members of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), for now, under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The association, which represents 25 news and current affairs broadcasters, challenged the rules on Thursday, saying they give government authorities “excessive powers” to “unreasonably and impermissibly restrict” the media’s freedom of speech and expression.
Justice PB Suresh Kumar, who granted interim relief to NBA members, also issued notice to the Union government for its stand on the petition. NBA said the rules seek to create an “oversight mechanism giving the executive unfettered, unbridled and excessive powers to regulate the content of digital news media”.
During Friday’s hearing, senior lawyer Maninder Singh, appearing for the NBA, drew the court’s attention to the high court’s decision to grant protection against coercive action in March to legal news portal Live Law and sought a similar shield for the news broadcasters.
The NBA’s challenge is essentially focussed on Part 3 of the new IT rules that relate to digital news media and requires publishers to establish a grievance procedure, a self-regulatory body, and adhere to the code of ethics, according to news agency PTI. The self-regulatory bodies to be formed by media companies or their associations have to be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, high courts or an eminent person.
Maninder Singh argued that a joint secretary-rank official would be heading the oversight mechanism at the ministry, which would supervise the self-regulatory body headed by a retired judge.
Since a joint secretary-rank official will head the oversight mechanism which would supervise the self-regulatory body headed by a retired judge, Maninder Singh argued that this would imply that the joint secretary will supervise orders of a retired judge.
“The grievance redressal mechanism created and the powers delegated have a ‘chilling effect” on the content of the media,” NBA’s petition said, contending that the rules exceeded the authority granted under the Information Technology Act and violate the constitutional rights of equality before law and freedom to practise any profession.
The rules, which apply to digital news media platforms, social media intermediaries and OTT platforms, were notified by the Centre on February 25 and came into effect on May 25.
It has, however, led to a storm over compliance. Petitions against the rules have been filed in several high courts including Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Kerala, prompting the Centre to approach the Supreme Court to request that the top court transfer all these cases to itself.
These rules also require digital companies such as Twitter, WhatsApp, and Facebook to change how they regulate content, appoint nodal officers for compliance and grievance redressal, and adopt features such as traceability of messages and voluntary user verification.
Instant messaging WhatsApp has approached the Delhi high court over the provision that obligates social media intermediaries to identify the first originator of a message.
The Centre has argued the rules are intended to provide speedy redressal of bringing down harmful content and allows users to demand the removal of personally intimate pictures or videos within 24 hours.