Bombay HC relieves online news editors on Indian IT rules

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Bombay: Declaring that “dissent” is vital to democracy, the Bombay High Court has granted a temporary suspension of the operation of parts of India’s IT rules of 2021, which require all online publishers to follow a “code of ethics”.

Sub-clauses 1 and 3 of Article 9 of the new rules were, on their face, “manifestly unreasonable”, and “the indeterminate and extensive terms of the rules have a chilling effect as (concerning) the right to liberty. of speeches and expression of writers / editors / editors “because they can be transported for anything if the authorities so wish, the High Court said on Saturday.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni suspended these two subclauses of the 2021 Information Technology Rules (Intermediate Guidelines and Code of Ethics for Digital Media), saying they appear to violate the applicants’ constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. under section 19.

“Dissent in democracy is vital … For a good administration of the state, it is healthy to invite criticism from all those in the public service so that the nation has structured growth, but with the 2021 Rules in place, one would think twice before criticizing such a personality, even though the writer / editor / publisher may have good reason to do so, ”the judges said.

If a committee proposed under the rules did not approve criticism from a public figure, anyone who criticized such a person would seek punishment, the court said.

The order follows petitions filed by legal information portal “The Leaflet” and journalist Nikhil Wagle who challenged several provisions of India’s new IT rules, saying they were vague and likely to have a “chilling effect. On a citizen’s right to freedom of expression. The rules went beyond the scope of mainstream computing law as well as “reasonable restrictions” on freedom of speech and expression permitted by section 19 (2) of the constitution, the petitioners said.

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The rules are “patently unreasonable and go beyond the IT law, its objectives and provisions,” the court said.

India’s IT Rules 2021 include an annex on the ‘Code of Ethics’ to which a publishing body, journalist, intermediary or any other person posting content online must adhere. These standards include an advisory code of conduct prescribed by the Press Council of India (PCI) and the Rules of Cable Television Network (CTVN).

The Bombay High Court pointed out that the Computer Law itself did not contain any provision to introduce such censorship on online content. The PCI and CTVN standards were formulated as separate statutory legislation, but the Union government attempted “illegally” to grant “exalted status” of mandatory compliance to those standards, the court said.

“People would be deprived of freedom of thought and feel stifled to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression, if they were to live in the present day of regulating Internet content with the Code. ethics hanging over their heads like the Sword of Damocles, ”the High Court said.

However, the court refused to suspend article 14 which concerns the creation of an inter-ministerial committee with the power to regulate online content and deal with grievances and breaches of the rules, and article 16 which concerns the blocking of online content. online content for emergencies.


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