IT Rules: Indian Media Cheer Court Order Putting New Code of Conduct on Hold

On Monday, some Indian media applauded a court order over the weekend that lifted part of the new rules that seek to regulate content on digital news sites, calling the measure significant for press freedom in India.

The Bombay Supreme Court has suspended implementation of rules under which digital media would have to adhere to the code of conduct established by India’s Press Council, a self-regulating press oversight body, and the country’s cable TV code.

The court ruled after petitions filed by a news website and a journalist.

It also suspended a three-tier regulatory framework for digital news media, including a federal government oversight mechanism, a rule that raised concerns that it would limit the media’s ability to report independently and was seen by many as part of the government’s efforts to control the media.

The broad scope of the 2021 rules “has a chilling effect” on media freedom of expression and expression, the court said, adding that the rules also go beyond the scope of India’s Information Technology Act.

“The Bombay Supreme Court’s order to keep the nastiest part of the government’s new IT rules as they apply to digital media is a shot in the arm for press freedom,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of independent news site The Wire.

“The government was trying to put digital news on an official straitjacket, but the court rightly stopped that process.”

The final hearing in the case is scheduled for September 27.

India outlined its new content regulations – Intermediate Guidelines and Digital Media Code of Ethics – in February and the rules, which the government said are legally enforceable, took effect in late May.

The rules – largely aimed at regulating large social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, and to overseeing digital news media – have led to a number of legal challenges, including from news organizations.

The non-profit organization, which runs The Wire, also challenged the new rules in Delhi High Court, and the case is expected to be heard later this month.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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