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Supreme Court to hear transfer petition of all IT Rules cases filed by news portals on July 16: Report

Supreme Court of India
Credit: Aditi Agrawal

A total of six petitions have been filed over the IT Rules by various news outlets like The Quint, The Wire, and Live Law; most of them arguing that the Rules are vague and unconstitutional. 

The Supreme Court will hear a transfer petition by the government of all cases involving the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 filed by news organisations on July 16, Bar & Bench reported. In a hearing on Friday, the court refused to immediately stay the matter and instead, tagged it with another matter for hearing on July 16. The government’s transfer petition was first filed in April, but according to records on the Supreme Court’s website, procedural defects delayed the case until its hearing today. The Friday order has not yet been updated on the Supreme Court’s website.

The cases consolidated by the government for transfer don’t appear to include those cases filed by non-media entities; for instance, Facebook or WhatsApp aren’t mentioned as one of the nine respondents by the government in the Supreme Court’s website, indicating that the messaging platform’s petition against the traceability requirement stated in the Rules will continue to proceed at the Delhi High Court.

What cases does the govt want transferred?

Per the Supreme Court’s website, the following cases against the IT Rules’ provisions by digital news outlets seem to be the ones that the government wants to move from various High Courts to the apex court.

  1. Foundation for Independent Journalism v. Union of India: The foundation that runs The Wire has moved the Delhi High Court to argue that the Rules are unconstitutional and that the parent legislation — the Information Technology Act, 2000 — makes no mention of online news. The petition argued that the government was overstepping its powers. The Delhi High Court is hearing the matter, and has tagged the matter with a similar petition, and refused interim relief so far. Petitioners in this case include MK Venu and The News Minute’s founder and editor Dhanya Rajendran.
  2. Live Law Media Private Limited & ors v. Union of India & anr: In the Kerala High Court, LiveLaw argued once again that the Rules were unconstitutional, and that they represented an undue burden on specialised publications like itself. The petition argued that the Rules were vague, overreaching, and impinged on privacy. It also argued that they may have a chilling effect on intermediaries, leading to more censorship. The Kerala High Court granted the publication protection from any coercive action.
  3. Sanjay Kumar Singh v. Union of India & ors: In the Delhi High Court, advocate Sanjay Kumar Singh said in a petition that the IT Rules were unconstitutional and need to be struck down. Singh argued that the criteria for censorship in the Rules were too vague and broad, and argued for judicial oversight in matters which involved freedom of expression. The Delhi High Court has tagged the matter with petitions by The Quint and The Wire, and the case will next be heard on August 4.
  4.  Quint Digital Media Limited & anr v. Union of India & anr: The Quint challenged the Rules in March at the Delhi High Court. The petition argued, among other things, that the Rules went beyond the scope of the parent legislation, that the IT Act wasn’t envisioned to regulate news websites, and that publishers are not intermediaries. The case has been tagged with the above cases in the same court, and no stay has been granted.
  5. Press Trust of India v. Union of India & anr: While the Press Trust of India’s petition in the Delhi High Court is not mentioned in the Supreme Court’s website, the government is likely to tag it in its transfer petition; the former court has tagged it with the other three cases mentioned above for further hearing.
  6. AGIJ Promotion Of Nineteenonea Media Pvt Ltd & anr v. Union of India & anr: In a petition at the Bombay High Court, The Leaflet, a legal publication, contended that the Rules placed an undue burden on publishers, that they were vague, and allowed non-judicial officers to undertake judicial functions. While this case has not yet been tagged by the government at the Supreme Court, Bar and Bench reported that hearings of the matter have been deferred because of the transfer petition.

There are other challenges to the provisions of the IT Rules that apply to news organisations that the government may soon tag in the transfer petition by the time the Supreme Court hears the case next. These include:

  1. Digital News Publishers Association & anr v. Union of India & anr: The DNPA is an association of legacy news organisations with a digital presence. In its petition at the Madras High Court, the DNPA, along with the former editor of The Hindu Mukund Padmanabhan, argued that the Rules were impinging on the constitutional rights to carry on business, freedom of expression, and privacy. The court issued a notice and the hearing is set for July 14.
  2. TM Krishna v. Union of India & anr: In this petition, also filed in the Madras High Court, Carnatic singer TM Krishna argued that his rights of free speech and privacy were violated by the Rules. The petition was drafted in part by the Internet Freedom Foundation. The DNPA petition was tagged along with this one, and the hearing is set for the same date of July 14.
  3. The News Broadcasters Association v. Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology: News channels represented by the NBA on Friday obtained an interim stay on coercive action against them based on the Rules. This essentially prevents the government from acting on the websites managed by NBA members, who have opposed the Rules on constitutional grounds. The NBA is headquartered in the National Capital Region.

Update (July 10): Added information on the NBA v. MEITY case.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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