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Partial relief from new digital media rules

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The Bombay High Court has stayed two provisions of the new Digital Media Rules. This is a partial relief to media organizations challenging these rules in court as the hearings against other provisions are still going on. Rule 9(1) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 and 9(3) has been stayed by the Bombay High Court. The court said that both the rules violate the constitutional right to freedom of expression and are beyond the power of the government to make laws. Under both the rules, news publishers on the Internet were required to follow a code of ethics or code of ethics set by the government. Apart from this, an order was also given to create a three-tier grievance redressal system, which would be headed by the government. Who had challenged these rules were strongly criticized by journalists and media organizations and many had filed cases against the new rules in different courts. The case was filed in the Bombay High Court by Nikhil Wagle, a senior journalist and a company that runs the website ‘The Leaflet’. They said that these rules were ‘draconian’, arbitrary, beyond the power of the government to make laws and violate the right to freedom of expression. After hearing these appeals, the court rejected these arguments right and stayed both these rules.

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Experts say that since these rules were implemented by the central government, this decision will be applicable not only in the jurisdiction of Bombay High Court but in the whole country. The code of policy can no longer be implemented anywhere in the country. Importance of Dissent While giving the verdict, the court also said that the standards of conduct for journalists have already been set by the Press Council of India, but these standards are ethical and not legal. The court also said that the Program Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act is only for regulation of cable services and not for authors/editors/publishers on the Internet. While delivering the verdict, the court also commented on the need for dissent in a democracy. The court said, “It is healthy for public servants to face criticism for the correct administration of the country, but because of the rules of 2021, one will have to think twice about criticizing them” He also said that due to this there will be such regulation of content on the Internet, which will take away people’s freedom of thought and they will also feel suffocated in using their freedom of expression. However, this decision is a partial victory for those challenging the new digital media rules. Apart from these two rules, the court also inspected rules 14 and 16 and did not stay them for now. The final hearing on the petition will be held on September 27.

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