The Centre has defended the legality of the new Information Technology (IT) Rules before the Delhi High Court, saying that the rules seek to “prevent the misuse of the freedom of press” and protect the citizens from fake news in digital media space which used to be largely unregulated.
The Centre, in its counter affidavit filed on a challenge to the constitutional validity of the new IT Rules, has submitted that although the right to freedom of speech and expression, including the freedom of press, is critical for a vibrant democracy like India, citizens “cannot be treated as passive consumers.”
While submitting that there have been “past incidents of disinformation on digital media leading to disturbance of public order”, the Centre has asserted that digital media “allows sensational content being re-circulated in a different context leading to misinterpretation by the audience”, making it susceptible to being used as fake news.
“IT Rules seek to prevent the misuse of the freedom of press by empowering the audience with a mechanism to raise their grievances related to the content being published by the digital news publishers through a grievance redressal mechanism with an emphasis on the self-regulatory architecture for digital news publishers, and are therefore not only within the ambit of the Act, but also fulfill the object sought to be achieved by the (IT) Act,” said the affidavit recently filed jointly by the Ministry Of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry Of Electronics and Information Technology.
“Before the notification of the Rules, digital news media was largely unregulated. It is submitted that before the notification of the Rules, no such mechanism was currently in operation with regard to news on digital media, thereby leading to a discriminatory imbalance within the news media ecosystem with respect to content on traditional media,” it added.
The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which were notified in February, impose several obligations on online entities including an obligation to take down contentious content quicker, appoint grievance redressal officers and assist in investigations.
In its affidavit, the Centre has claimed that the regulation of media content in the electronic form, including news and current affairs content and online curated content, is well within the scope of the IT Act and the new rules do not provide any additional restrictions apart from what is already prohibited by existing statutes.