The Kerala High Court on Friday directed the Centre not to take any coercive action against the members of News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which represents several news channels, over non-compliance of the new IT rules.
Justice P B Suresh Kumar also issued notice to the Centre and sought its stand on the plea by NBA which has contended that the new IT Rules give government authorities "excessive powers" to "unreasonably and impermissibly restrict" the freedom of speech and expression of the media.
Senior advocate Maninder Singh, who appeared for the NBA, said that under the new IT rules, a Joint Secretary would be heading the oversight mechanism which would supervise the self-regulatory body headed by a retired judge.
Under the rules, media companies or their associations have to form self-regulatory bodies which would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or High Courts or an eminent person.
According to a report by livelaw.com, submitted that the high court had passed a similar order in LiveLaw Media's case restraining the Centre from taking any coercive action based on IT Rules.
"In light of the interim order in WPC No 6272/2021 (Live Law Media Private Limited Vs Union of India), the respondents shall not to take any coercive action against the petitioners for non-compliance of the provisions contained in the Rules," a bench of Justice PB Suresh Kumar said, accepting Singh's argument.
Thursday said it has filed a plea in the Kerala High Court challenging the new IT rules on the ground that they give government authorities "excessive powers" to "unreasonably and impermissibly restrict" the freedom of speech and expression of the media.
In a statement, the NBA said the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, are ultra vires to the Information Technology Act, 2000 apart from being violative of Article 14 (equality before law) and 19(1)(g) (right to freedom to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business) of the Constitution.
It said the challenge is to Part III (Code of Ethics and Procedure and Safeguards in relation to Digital Media) of the IT rules as they create an "oversight mechanism giving the executive unfettered, unbridled and excessive powers to regulate content of digital news media".
"The grievance redressal mechanism created and the powers delegated have a 'chilling effect' on the content of the media. The writ (petition) also states that the executive by creating such a structure, has made inroads into judicial power and vested itself with powers reserved exclusively for the judiciary and such exercise of power is without jurisdiction," the statement said.
It said the petition has also challenged the new rules as the IT Act does not contain any provision for dealing with "content" of any programme and therefore, the rules are ultra vires the parent Act.
"The rules violate Article 14 as there is neither any parity nor any valid exercise of classification in the rules as intermediaries' have been equated with 'digital news media'," it said, adding that the appendix of the rules - "Code of Ethics" makes the Programme Code applicable to the digital news media.
The Programme Code contains vague, imprecise and ambiguous terms in relation to "content" such as "good taste", "snobbish attitude" and therefore, is not in consonance with the judgement of the Supreme Court.
Several digital news media platforms have already challenged the 2021 IT rules in various high courts and even the Centre has approached the Supreme Court seeking to transfer all such pleas to itself.