New Delhi, Jun 28 (ILNS) The Delhi High Court today refused to grant any stay on the Centre’s new Information Technology rules, which seek to regulate the digital news media ‘Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021,’ stating that in a Vacation Bench, there is no question of any interim relief.
A Vacation Bench of Justice Hari Shankar and Justice Subramonium Prasad directed to renotify a plea before the regular bench that is identical to two connected pleas, wherein a notice has already been issued.
The pleas challenge the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 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 (Impugned Part) by imposing Government oversight and a Code of Ethics, which stipulates such vague conditions as good taste and decency – matters nowhere within the contemplation of the parent Act.
Senior Counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan said, “In Foundation for Independent Journalism vs UOI; and Quint Digital Media Limited Vs UOI, notice has been issued, in The Wire; Pravda Media Foundation Vs UOI, notice should be issued as it raises an identical issue challenging the vires of the IT media group. But I’m also seeking interim relief.”
Justice Hari Shankar said, “You have had three hearings before the regular Division Bench. You have moved an application for the stay of the notice of the notification, you have not had any stay. They are only implementing the notification. In Vacation Bench, there is no question of there being any interim relief.
Ms Ramakrishnan said, “They were asked to reply by April 16, which they did not do. The matter has not come up during the pandemic. The last notification on the basis of which we have come for relief is dated on May 28.”
Justice Hari Shankar said, “The matter came up on May 27 and on that day also, you have had no interim order from the Division Bench. They are only implementing a notification, on which you have no stay.
Ms Ramakrishnan said, “On my original application for interim relief notice went. They were supposed to reply by April 16, thereafter the matter has not come up.
Justice Hari Shankar : Don’t say it hasn’t come up it has come up on 27th May.
Ms Ramakrishnan : On 27th this step had not come up.
Justice Hari Shankar : Let me make this clear. You have challenged the rules. You have made interim application for the stay of the rules. That application has come up before the division bench on at least two occasions. The action they are taking now is only implementation of those rules.
“It is not your case in your application that the notice is contrary to the rules. The only case in your application is when notice is issued in the stay application they should not have proceeded to take coercive action. We are not in agreement to that.
Ms Ramakrishnan said, “When we sought stay of the rules, the notice went to them for which they have not yet filed a reply. The matter is not disposed off against me. After May 27, when they ask us to comply, what we have told them is not merely that the matter is pending. We have said several things.
“We have said what they are seeking to do is expressly contrary to a Judgement of the Supreme Court. We are willing to engage with them and please give us a hearing. We have also told them the information they are seeking is in the public domain and there is no need for coercive action.
“We have brought it to their notice that subsequent to what happened in this court, four other High Courts have thought fit to issue notice on a matter of constitutional challenge.
“It is further our case, in a matter which is ex-facie unconstitutional – where the Central Government sits in judgement over content of news media, where the act doesn’t permit to make any delegated legislation on this subject, any coercive step when it is proposed to be taken is something for which I can come to your lordships and the last coercive step they are threatening is on June 18, they are saying consequences will follow until then we were engaging with them.
“By the last letter, they are coercing us into a disciplinary regime of the Central Government. Until now, they were only engaging with us in correspondence,” she added.
Justice Hari Shankar said, “Renotify before regular bench as per roster.” ILNS/ANR/RJ