The Madras high court has given the central government 10 more days to file its counter-affidavit in response to a batch of public interest litigations (PILs) challenging the new Information Technology (IT) Rules. Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P D Audikesavalu, who granted the central government time to file its counter-affidavit, posted the matter for hearing after 15 days.
The petitions filed by carnatic music singer TM Krishna, Digital News Publishers of India, former Editor of The Hindu N Ram and a senior journalist challenged the constitutionality of the newly notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules.
The petitioners argued that Part III of the impugned rules imposes illegitimate restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. According to the Code of Ethics, publishers must consider a variety of factors beyond those stipulated as grounds for reasonable restrictions on speech under Article 19(2) of the impugned rules.
Additionally, these directions will also result in unconstitutional restrictions on speech.
Accordingly, the Inter-Departmental Committee under the impugned rules is free to recommend the removal of religiously offensive speech to the central government, although Article 19(2) does not permit such a restriction. According to petitioners, this violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
Furthermore, the petitioner contended that the new Rules are also in violation of the IT Act 2000, because no part of the Act gives the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting the authority to regulate digital news media or online content producers through an Inter-departmental committee or otherwise. As a result, the rules promulgated under Part IIl are wholly in violation of the purported parent Act.