New Delhi: In a significant step, the Supreme Court asked the Central government, Press Council of India(PCI) and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) to inform by 15 June, what action they had taken against the print, electronic , digital media and social media circulating news that had the potential to communalise the society and create disharmony among various sections.
The apex court's notices were issued on Wednesday in response to a petition filed by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind’s (Arshad Madani faction) legal secretary Gulzar Ahmed Azmi, requesting the court to direct action against those who were circulating the fake news, particularly with regard to the Markaz Nizamuddin of the Tablighi Jamaat in connection with the coronavirus outbreak and the false propaganda by a section of the print, electronic and digital media holding Muslims responsible for spreading of coronavirus in the country. The bench hearing the petition is headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde and includes Justices AS Bppanna and Rishikesh.
An earlier petition that was filed on 21 April was hard by the court, but the Supreme Court then took the stance that the court could not gag the media. However, now the court has chosen to issue notices on the grounds that such false news would lead to law and order problems. The petitioner thenwas asked to approach the Press Council of India in this regard. The apex court’s action on Wednesday assumes significance in the light of the rejection of the earlier prayer and the issuance of notice this time.
The current petition pointed out that some people in Gujarat had circulated leaflets and handbills accusing the Muslims of being carriers of corona which not only weakened the united fight against Covid-19 but led to even physical attacks on Muslims and their trade boycott.
Appearing for JUH, senior advocate Dushyant Dave drew the court's attention towards communal news content having been reported by the TV channels, specially with regard to Tablighi Jamaat Markaz. The propaganda, he argued, had done severe damage to communal harmony and the country's social fabric. He appealed the court to take serious action in the matter as such reporting is in violation of the law and therefore, immediate action is required as substantial time had already lapsed.
Replying to the repeated mention of the petitioner’s advocate to “take the matter seriously”, the bench observed that “we take all matters serious” and also asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to submit in the court within two weeks as to what action the government had taken against TV channels for airing communally sensitive news by violating the provisions of the Cable Television Network(Regulation) Act, 1995.
The court also told Mehta that it was a very serious matter which could turn into a serious law and order issue and hence asked for the government's urgent attention into the matter.
JUH president Arshad Madani said that Wednesday's decision of the court was welcome, and although the bench has not yet issued any judgement, the notices represented a positive step. He also said that their legal struggle to curb biased media will continue until getting a positive result. "We hope that we will get justice in this case because this is a matter of Hindus and Muslims but the integrity and communal harmony of India. Considering today’s hearing as positive, we hope that we will get justice again from Supreme Court”, he added.