The first bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy provided the relief based on submission by senior counsel P S Raman that along with Rule 12 and 14, rule 16 provides omnibus power to the Secretary, Union Ministry of information and Broadcasting to block public access to any digital information unilaterally and is bound to affect the functioning of the media and press.
However, the bench while granting liberty to approach the court in the event of any action being initiated refused to stay the said rules on pointing out that no action has been initiated against the petitioners so far. The bench also tagged it with another plea moved by noted musician T M Krishna challenging the said Act on grounds of it being a blow on the right to free expression and privacy guaranteed under the Constitution.
DNPA represented by Hariharan Sivakumar and Mukund Padmanabhan submitted that Rule 9 creates a three-tier structure with the purported aim of ensuring adherence to the code of ethics. This three-tier structure has been entrusted with powers to decide complaints by any consumer and suo motu grants powers to take action against such publishers (in Rules 13-15).
Moreover, the code of ethics provides the executive to adjudicate upon whether or not a publisher has contravened any existing law while the question of whether or not a law has been contravened lies solely with the judiciary and not the executive.
The plea also challenged the newly introduced guidelines primarily on the ground that the IT Act 2021 seek to legislate the conduct of entities which are not even within the scope of the Information Technology Act 2000 and is a gross transgression of the same.
The plea further submitted that IT rules 2021 seek to curb the freedom of speech and expression as well as freedom of press proscribing content on the basis of vague and subjective grounds, which have already been struck down by the Supreme court.
Another submission, dwelt on the IT rules 2021 seeking to usher in an era of surveillance and fear, thereby resulting in self-censorship which curtails the fundamental rights as envisaged in the Constitution.
DNPA comprises several of the media companies in the country including both the print and TV media.