Supreme Court airs concern over spread of fake and ‘communal’ news | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Supreme Court airs concern over spread of fake and ‘communal’ news

By, New Delhi
Sep 03, 2021 01:14 AM IST

The court was hearing a clutch of petitions, led by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, seeking directions to the Union government to stop the dissemination of fake news and take strict action against a section of the media for spreading communal hatred and bigotry through their reportage.

The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed concern over the proliferation of fake news and the communalisation of reportage and asked the Centre if it is “really serious” about fixing accountability on web portals and other media to check the menace. The court observed that communalisation of news gives the country a “bad name”.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, lamented that there were several web portals and YouTube channels maligning judges and the judiciary that do not care to respond when questioned about the basis of their reports.. (Archive)
A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, lamented that there were several web portals and YouTube channels maligning judges and the judiciary that do not care to respond when questioned about the basis of their reports.. (Archive)

A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, lamented that there were several web portals and YouTube channels maligning judges and the judiciary that do not care to respond when questioned about the basis of their reports.

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“There seems to be no control on web portals. They can publish anything they like. If you go to YouTube, how much fake news and distortions take place there? There is no control. Anybody can start any channel, any TV and report anything,” observed the bench, also including justices Surya Kant and AS Bopanna.

The court was hearing a clutch of petitions, led by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, seeking directions to the Union government to stop the dissemination of fake news and take strict action against a section of the media for spreading communal hatred and bigotry through their reportage.

Representing the Centre, solicitor general Tushar Mehta informed the bench that the new information technology rules that came into force this year seek to address several of the issues highlighted by the court by striking a balance between self-regulation and statutory control. He added that the government is committed to ensuring the flow of “unadulterated news” to the audience while being mindful of the freedom of the press.

The bench, however, responded: “You have a regulatory regime for TV and newspapers but are you suggesting these web portals and YouTube channels require no regulation? Are you really serious about the regulatory regime? The problem is that everything in this country is shown from a communal angle. That’s a very serious problem. Ultimately the country is going to get a bad name.”

Mehta replied that the 2021 IT Rules have brought about a regulatory regime to also cover digital news portals. “These rules have been challenged in various high courts. One high court has passed an interim order staying a part of the rules. We have filed a transfer petition before this court so that the issues are finally dealt with by the Supreme Court,” added the S-G.

The CJI said: “I have never come across any web portal that responds. They never respond. They have given a bad name to the institution and when they are asked questions, they say it is our right to carry anything.”

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, representing one of the petitioners, said he is himself a victim of this phenomenon as microblogging website Twitter removed him from the platform and also objected to his filing a writ petition before the Delhi high court against the removal.

The CJI retorted: “They hear voices of only powerful people. They don’t hear voices of common man like judges, etc., and write anything against the institution without any accountability.” The bench further observed: “Let us have a meaningful and full debate on all these issues.”

The court accepted Hegde’s request to amend his petition in the backdrop of the new IT and cable TV rules that have been notified and certain provisions of the new rules that he sought to challenge. The court asked all the counsel, including the S-G, to file their response and rejoinder affidavits to the amended petitions and listed the matter after six weeks.

Acceding to S-G’s plea, the bench said the transfer petitions filed by the Centre for bringing different cases pending before various high courts against the new rules to the top court for an authoritative pronouncement will be heard together with the present batch of cases.

On July 9, the Kerala high court restrained the Centre from taking any coercive action against members of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which challenged the new IT Rules on the ground that they give government authorities “excessive powers” to “unreasonably and impermissibly restrict” the media’s freedom of speech and expression. The NBA is a consortium of 78 private TV news and current affairs broadcasters, including the country’s leading 25 news channels.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 were introduced in February this year. The new rules applied to digital news media platforms, social media intermediaries and OTT platforms.

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