No coercive action for non compliance of IT rules: Kerala High Court

The Kerala High Court on Friday issued notice on News Broadcasters Associatio’sn (NBA) plea 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.

Justice PB Suresh Kumar has also restrained the Central Government from taking any coercive action against NBA under new IT Rules.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, for the organisation, submitted that the High Court had passed an order in LiveLaw Media’s case restraining Government from taking any coercive action based on IT Rules and pressed for a similar order.

NBA has contended that 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 judgment of the Supreme Court.

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