Bombay High Court Questions Amendments to IT Rules and Their Impact on Parody and Satire

Bombay High Court Questions Amendments to IT Rules and Their Impact on Parody and Satire

The Bombay High Court has questioned the amendments to the Information Technology Rules, which appear to offer no protection to parody and satire. The court made these observations while hearing a petition filed by stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra. The Union government promulgated amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 on April 6, which included a fact-check unit to identify misleading or false online content related to the government.

Kamra filed a petition claiming that the new rules could potentially lead to his content being arbitrarily blocked or his social media accounts being suspended, which would harm his profession. Kamra sought a declaration that the amended rules were unconstitutional and a direction to the government to restrain from taking action against any individual under the rules.

The Union government filed an affidavit in court reiterating that the fact-check unit’s role is restricted to any business of the Central government. The fact-check unit may only identify fake or false or misleading information and not any opinion, satire or artistic impression. Therefore, the introduction of the impugned provision has a clear aim and suffers from no purported arbitrariness or unreasonableness.

During the hearing, a division bench of Justices GS Patel and Neela Gokhale noted that the rules do not seem to offer protection to fair criticism of the government, such as parody and satire. The Centre had also stated that the fact-check unit has not yet been notified by the government, and arguments made in the petition regarding its functioning have no basis and were premature. However, the court rejected this argument, stating that the challenge is not premature.

The court will continue to hear the matter on April 27. According to the amendments, intermediaries such as social media companies will have to act against content identified by the fact-check unit or risk losing their “safe harbour” protections under Section 79 of the IT Act. Safe harbour protections allow intermediaries to avoid liabilities for what third parties post on their websites.


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