IT Rules 2021: Delhi HC grants govt more time to file reply, denies interim relief to The Quint and The Wire

Among other things, the new IT Rules require news organisations to appoint a grievance officer who reviews and disposes of complaints from readers or viewers of online news. 

The Delhi High Court today denied interim relief from coercive action against non-compliance with the new Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to news media organisations The Wire and The Quint, according to a report by LiveLaw.  The government had requested more time to file a counter-affidavit against their petition, which challenges the constitutionality of the IT rules, following which senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan representing the media portals asked for interim relief until the next hearing.

Accepting the government’s request, the division bench comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh posted the matter for hearing on August 20 but denied the petitioners any relief. However, it said that the petitioners will be at liberty to seek an urgent hearing in case any action is taken against them in the intervening time.

During the hearing, the Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma asked why they (Quint and The Wire) couldn’t submit the information required under the new IT rules since 1,200 digital media houses had already done so. To this, Ramakrishnan said that it was not a matter of voice vote and said that “we challenged the rules, they haven’t”. “What they’re trying to do is in the face of a Supreme Court order which says government control of the media is unacceptable,” she said, according to the report and added that the information the government seeks is already in the public domain.

According to Ramakrishnan, she was prepared to argue the ‘stay and main applications’ today; however, the government hadn’t responded.

AltNews – whose parent company PravdaMedia’s motion challenging the IT rules was also heard today – was also denied any interim relief.

The online news organisatons had earlier been denied relief by a Vacation Bench on June 29. The Foundation for Independent Journalism (FIJ) which runs The Wire, along with Dhanya Rajendran of The News Minute, has challenged the IT rules on grounds that it ultra vires the Constitution of India and goes beyond the scope of the Information Technology Act. In its petition, The Quint challenged the rules as they would enable the government to virtually dictate terms to news portals.

Under the new IT rules, news organisations will have to appoint a grievance redressal officer to act on complaints from viewers and consumers, and be members of a self-regulatory body constituted as per government norms where a reader can appeal, if dissatisfied, against the decision from the first complaint.

Lastly, an inter-departmental committee will be instituted to censor such content and all online news organisations would have to comply with government-sponsored ethics norms which were only applicable to television and print organisations so far.

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