The Madras High Court on Thursday, 16th September, stayed the operation of a key provision of the Information Technology Rules, 2021, enacted in May, citing the right to freedom of speech and expression as essential in a democracy. The provision set up an oversight mechanism by the Centre to regulate social media and digital media platforms.
While passing the interim order, a bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P D Audikesavulu said, "Prima facie, there is substance to the petitioner's grievance that the oversight mechanism to control the media by the Government may rob the media of its independence and the fourth pillar of democracy may not at all be there." The High Court said this while staying the operation of Rule 9(1) and 9(3) of the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, The Indian Express reported.
What Is Rule 9 Of IT Rules?
Rule 9 of the IT Rules prescribe a grievance redressal mechanism while sub-Section 1 establishes a portal to be set up by the IT Ministry for receiving complaints against media portals. Under sub-Section 3, after receiving the complaint, an acknowledgement is generated within 24 hours, which is later referred to the media platform concerned and the Ministry of Information and Technology.
This is the second time a High Court has cited the right to freedom of speech and at the same time staying the same provision in the IT Rules. Last month, Bombay High Court had stayed Rule 9(1) and 9(3), terming them as unreasonable and going beyond the IT Act.
The provision was challenged in the Madras High Court by the Digital News Publishers Association, a grouping of 13 leading media companies in the country — Amar Ujala Limited, ABP Network Private Limited, DB Corp Limited, Express Network Pvt Ltd, HT Digital Streams Ltd, IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd, Jagran Prakashan Limited, Lokmat Media Private Limited, NDTV Convergence Limited, TV Today Network Limited, The Malayala Manorama Co (P) Ltd, Times Internet Limited and the Ushodaya Enterprises Private Limited.
The High Court also examined Rule 3(1)(c), which terminates users' access or usage rights for non-compliance by media platforms with the provisions of grievance redressal.