Courts, protect media: IT rules attack media’s core freedom. Judges should see legal challenges to rules in that light

SourceTimes of India

Relevance: New IT rules are aimed at regulating media and address the Challenges to internal security.

Synopsis: New IT rules that apply indiscriminately to all digital content are facing a slew of legal challenges from news agencies.

News agencies and the IT Rules:

Recently, in a petition brought by the National Broadcasters Association, the Kerala HC shielded broadcasters from coercive action. The Digital News Publishers Association has also challenged the constitutionality of these rules in the Madras HC. This is due to the following reasons,

  • Digital news and current affairs publishers are correctly questioning why the news media is treated on a par with social media and OTT platforms.
  • Further, there was no consultation with the news media before these rules were made.
  • These rules will bring in surveillance of news outlets and fear of government diktats. That’s unacceptable and anti-democratic.
Read More: New IT Rules for Social Media and its challenges – Explained, Pointwise
Why including news agencies under IT rules is unnecessary?
  • Unlike social media platforms, the news is already regulated by the Press Council, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act and the National Broadcasting Standards Authority. Therefore, additional rules were unnecessary in the first place.
  • The IT Act, which deals with digital intermediaries, does not even apply to news publishers. Nor does it deal with any content regulation except in cases of cyberterrorism, sexually explicit and obscene material, child pornography. Therefore, IT rules, as subordinate legislation, cannot roam widely beyond the scope of the parent act.
  • The rules seem like an attempt to intimidate the news media into self-censorship, apart from vesting government with overreaching powers over news content.

In the past, the SC has strongly protected media rights with its interpretation of Article 19(a) as part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression. All courts must demonstrate a robust commitment to media independence.

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