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Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Tablighi Jamaat row: SC asks Centre to explain legal mechanism to tackle fake news

  • The top court also expressed its displeasure over Centre’s reply in the plea seeking actions against media for communalizing the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz.

NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought Central government’s response with respect to the applicability of the Cable Television Network Regulations Act (CTNRA) and other legal mechanisms to tackle fake news complaints against media portals. The top court also expressed its displeasure over Centre’s reply in the plea seeking actions against media for communalizing the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz.

Tablighi Jamaat, a sect of Sunni Islam, had organized a religious congregation mid-March at Delhi's Nizamuddin Markaz, a mosque located in the heart of the city. The building where the event was organized had become one of the biggest covid-19 hotspots in India, significantly adding to the number of cases across the country at the initial stage of the pandemic.

The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said, “We are not happy with the reply of the Centre. You have not dealt with the applicability of the Cable Television Networks Act and the legal regime concerning this."

On 13 November, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting filed its affidavit and stated that the communal reporting allegations were based on vague assertions and the entire media cannot be claimed to be spreading communal disharmony. The government also contended that the plea by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind made allegations against a “certain section of media" without giving any specifications. Further, the plea mentions “certain news reports" and those reports have not been produced, the affidavit contended.

Chief Justice Bobde said, “We want to know the mechanism employed by you and this affidavit has nothing on it. Why should we refer to News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) etc. when you have the authority to look into it? If it does not exist then you create an authority else, we will hand it over to an outside agency."

The bench also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian asked the Centre to mention its response past incidents where the government has acted under the CTNRA to tackle the issue of fake news and complaints against media channels.

The bench also asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre to incorporate all the contentions raised by the court and filed a detailed affidavit. The case will be heard next after three weeks.

Earlier on 8 October, the bench had pulled up the government and directed it to file a fresh affidavit through Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and not through a junior officer.

In its 6 August affidavit, the Centre filed its response saying that a “blanket gag order" cannot be passed against media reportage and the government has taken adequate steps in order to prevent provocative and false information. It argued that such an order would destroy the freedom of speech and expression of the press. However, the court apprised the bench that the FIRs have been registered in cases where false reports have hurt the religious sentiments of people.

On 6 April, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind had moved the apex court claiming that the media communalized the congregation. The plea states that the media has 'demonized the Muslim community'. The petition has sought strict actions against those media houses which allegedly "spread bigotry and communal hatred in relation to the Nizamuddin Markaz issue".

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