The Bombay High Court today partially stayed the operation of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The High Court in its ruling said that they have found that prima facie it is in intrusion of petitioner’s rights and goes beyond substantive law Information Technology Act.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni stayed Rule 9 (1) and Rule 9 (3) of the new IT Rules. The portion which is stayed brings Code of Ethics under the IT Rules and self-regulation by the publishers, self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers and oversight mechanism by the Central Government.
The court observed that Rule 9 -observance and adherence to the code, prima facie seems to be against the freedom of speech. The bench also noted, that they may observe that as far as Rule 14-Constitution of inter-departmental committee is concerned, there is no immediate urgency as the committee is not set up. In these circumstances, the oversight committee itself has not taken effect. The court urged the petitioners to come as and when it is set up. Referring to Rule 16 (blocking of information in case of emergency), the court said, they find no case is made out for a stay on Rule 16, so that is not stayed.
The court was hearing one petition filed by a legal news website, The Leaflet and a public interest litigation by a journalist. The pleas urged for direction from court to restrain authorities from taking any coercive action against them for any failure to comply with the new Rules.
Petitioners argued that the Rules go far beyond permissible restrictions of freedom of speech and freedom of trade for digital news publisher.