Freedom of speech is most abused, says SC on ‘fake news’ on Tablighi Jamaat
The petitioners alleged that television news channels reported the Tablighi Jamaat incident at Nizamuddin in a skewed manner, demonising the Muslim community,
Freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedoms during recent times, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while hearing a case seeking action against television channels for allegedly disseminating fake news about the Tablighi Jamaat and communalising the Nizamuddin markaz incident.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, also took strong exception to the affidavit filed by the central government in response to the petition and stated that it has been filed by a junior officer and also does not address any specific instances of bad reporting raised by the petitioner.
“You cannot treat this court this way. The affidavit is filed by a junior officer. It is also extremely evasive and does not respond to the incidents of bad reporting,” CJI Bobde told solicitor general Tushar Mehta.
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Mehta said that he will see to it that a fresh affidavit is filed.
The court asked Mehta to ensure that the concerned department’s secretary files the fresh affidavit.
“Secretary must tell us what he thinks of the specific incidents (cited by the petitioner) and not make nonsensical averments like what has been done now,” Bobde said and posted the case for further hearing after two weeks.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who was representing the petitioner, submitted that the government has claimed that the issue involves muzzling of free speech.
“Freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedoms of recent times,” CJI Bobde remarked.
The court was hearing petitions filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, Peace Party, DJ Halli Federation of Masjid Madaaris and Wakf Institute and one Abdul Kuddus Laskar alleging that the media was reporting the incident in a skewed manner and demonising the Muslim community.
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The Nizamuddin area in Delhi was sealed on March 30 after it came to light that several people, who had attended a religious event held in March at Nizamuddin by a Muslim sect called Tablighi Jamaat, were found to be infected with coronavirus.
At least 16,500 people had visited Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters in Nizamuddin between March 13 and 24.
The petitioners have submitted that the reportage of the incident by certain sections of the media were in violation of journalistic norms and the provisions of the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act and the programme code under that Act which prohibits telecast of programmes containing attacks on a religion or communities or promoting communalism.
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The petition also pointed out that a number of such fake news has been debunked by fact checking organizations like Altnews.
During the hearing on Thursday, the court also asked the centre to clarify which provision would specifically be used by the government to impose a bar on the broadcast of television channels.