News channels have misused the right to free speech, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde has said, and asked the Centre to explain if it had taken any steps to curb the trend.
“Freedom of speech is one of the most abused rights in recent times,” the CJI said in reaction to the Centre’s affidavit filed in response to a petition of some Muslim organizations which alleged that the community was unfairly targeted during the pandemic after a COVID cluster was found at the Tablighi Markaz held in Delhi. The petition urged the Supreme Court to force the Centre’s hand against insinuating reportage in the name of journalism. The CJI dubbed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting affidavit to the allegations made in multiple petitions as ‘evasive’. “You cannot treat this court like this,” the CJI told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who was appeared for the Centre. The court took exception to a junior officer filing the affidavit instead of the I&B secretary. “This affidavit is extremely offensive and brazen,” the CJI observed. It says that there were no instances of bad reporting, he said. “We find it highly offensive. It has brazenly not pointed out an incident of bad reporting. The officer must tell us about the incidents pointed out and not make nonsensical averments,” the CJI added.
The government must give us instances of bad reporting and what action it had taken against TV channels so far in each instance, he said. “If you have the power you must exercise it,” the CJI observed. Mehta told the bench that he was not aware of any such affidavit and offered to have a better affidavit submitted by a secretary-level officer. The bench adjourned the case for two weeks to allow the government to do so. The court had earlier asked the government to keep an eye out for those instigating law and order problems during the pandemic. It had directed petitioners, the Jamiat e Ulema I Hind and others, to implead the National Broadcasters’ Association in the case. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave is appearing for the Jamiat. It had also sought the views of the Press Council of India on action taken against TV channels which carried alleged fake news blaming the Tablighi Markaz for the spread of Covid-19 in the country. The petitions had accused the media of communalizing the spread of the pandemic in the country against all rules and regulations dealing with TV broadcasting content and said this was a violation of the Cable TV (regulation) Act.