The Delhi High Court on Monday sought a response from the Central government on a petition by Alt News , an online fact-checking website, challenging the new Information Technology (IT) rules that seek to regulate digital news media.
The court is already seized of similar pleas by major online news portals such as The Wire , The News Minute , and the Quint Digital Media Ltd.
A vacation bench of Justices C. Hari Shankar and Subramonium Prasad, however, declined to pass any interim order on a fresh application filed by The Wire and Quint, which claimed that the Union government was “threatening to take coercive action” against online news outlets.
The court has put the fresh applications for hearing next week when it reopens after the summer vacation.
“You have challenged the [IT] rules. You have made an interim application for their stay. That application has come up before the regular bench on at least two occasions. The action they [Centre] are now taking is implementation of those rules,” the vacation bench remarked.
“Now the notice that has been sent to you is only by way of implementation of the rules, because there is no stay,” the court said while declining to pass any order.
‘Coercive action threat’
Senior advocate Nitya Ramakrihnan, for the online news outlets, contended that they were forced to approach the court now as the government was “threatening to take coercive action”.
“”It is our case that in a matter which is ex facie unconstitutional i.e. when the Central government sits in judgments over content of news media, any coercive steps which is proposed to be taken, I [online news outlets] can approach the court,” Ms. Ramakrihnan argued. “The last coercive step they are threatening is on June 18. They are saying ‘consequences will follow’ in their letter. Until then, we were engaging with them,” she said, while stressing that notices were sent to the Centre by the court on their application for the stay of the IT rules.
“By this letter, they are forcing us into a disciplinary regime of the Central government. Until now, they were engaging with us only in correspondence. On June 18, they say ‘you comply or else’,” she added.
The online news portals had in their pleas challenged the constitutional validity of the IT rules.