- At the outset, let us be very clear in properly comprehending the freedom accorded in the echelons of the day-to-day news reporting as well as accompanying responsibilities being shouldered by the media in the country with such great aplomb. The print media even before the advent of now widely prevalent electronic media has held fort whilst contributing to the neutral, unbiased, and impartial dissemination of information directly addressing the common citizens on diverse happenings around them. Not for nothing, the Fourth Estate is always referred to as the fourth pillar of the Constitution alongside Legislature, Executive, and the Judiciary for ensuring balancing is restored whenever one arm wittingly or unwittingly oversteps by prompt coverage.
PC: Mohit Nagpure
- The press and the media enjoy a certain amount of confidence amongst the people for their role in upholding their rights. Any number of efforts to encumber the media from time to time by the overzealous administrators has met with stiff resistance from the Fourth Estate duly corrected by the Judiciary. The Judiciary has always stepped in to address anomalies to circumvent or thrust unwanted restrictions over the clearly defined roleplay of the media in our democracy. Sadly, yet another effort to muzzle the media is underway what with the new IT rules indiscriminately applying to all digital content which is facing a slew of legal challenges. This is largely owing to the government failing to make some basic distinctions between the digital news and current affairs publishers being treated on a par with social media and Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms.
- No wonder, the new IT rules are facing a slew of legal challenges questioning the wisdom of clubbing different media platforms. Recently, on a petition brought by the National Broadcasters Association, the Kerala HC shielded broadcasters from coercive action. Note that the Digital News Publishers Association has also challenged the constitutionality of these rules in the Madras HC. In another development, the Press Trust of India (PTI) has moved the Delhi HC on the matter. In hindsight, this entire episode could have been avoided had the authorities concerned initiated prior consultation with the news media before these rules were framed, as is the practice. Unfortunately, an established norm has been given short shrift.
PC: Rhea Banerjee
- For the uninitiated, the news is already regulated by the Press Council, unlike social media platforms, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, and the National Broadcasting Standards Authority, respectively. As can be seen, bringing in additional rules was unnecessary in the first place. You would be surprised to note that the IT Act dealing with digital intermediaries does not even apply to news publishers nor does it deal with any content regulation except in cases of cyberterrorism, sexually explicit and obscene material, child pornography, etc. In other words, these simply do not apply to news media.
- Therefore, it is incumbent, the Higher Courts steps in to uphold Article 19(a) as part of the fundamental right to free speech and expression. The Supreme Court has always intervened to protect the same by correct interpretation of the Article and may do so as a matter of propriety. Make no mistake, these rules will usher in the surveillance of news outlets and will constantly work under the fear of government diktats restricting freedom. Such a draconian move is simply unacceptable and should have no place in a democratic country. The time to repeal is now.