The Supreme Court on Thursday voiced concerns about news being given a communal tone on social media platforms and digital outlets, reported Bar and Bench.
“There is an attempt to give communal colour to news and that is the problem,” Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said. “It ultimately brings bad name to the country.”
The chief justice made the remarks while hearing a petition filed by Islamic organisation Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and the Peace Party. The petition has sought directions to stop media outlets from allegedly spreading fake news by linking the spread of the coronavirus disease with a Tablighi Jamaat congregation that took place in Delhi in March 2020.
Many pro-government media channels and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders had blamed the congregation of causing thousands of coronavirus infections around the country in the initial weeks of the pandemic as the people who attended the meeting returned to their homes across India.
The allegations, echoed widely on these pro-government channels, had renewed stigma against Muslims, triggering a wave of hate speech and boycotts of business.
Several cases were filed against people who attended the congregation for reasons such as allegedly disobeying the government’s Covid-19 guidelines or violating the conditions of their visa. But courts have quashed most of the FIRs and acquitted the members.
In January, the Supreme Court had also criticised the media coverage on the matter, and castigated the central government for failing to place restrictions on television programmes.
During Thursday’s hearing, Ramana said that digital and social media platforms, where fake news was being spread, do not listen or respond to the judiciary.
“These web channels, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube... They never respond,” the court said, according to The Hindu. “About the institution they write badly and then they do not respond... This is the condition of institutions, forget individuals...They consider only people who are powerful.”
The court asked if there was any rule in place to regulate such digital outlets and social media platforms.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta replied that the Centre has framed the new Information Technology Rules, 2021, to check such platforms. “This is what is taken care under IT Rules,” Mehta said.
The Information Technology rules, which were announced in February and became effective in May, have been framed to regulate social media companies, streaming and digital news content, virtually bringing them, for the first time, under the ambit of government supervision.
On Thursday, the solicitor general said the new IT rules have been challenged before various High Courts. He sought the court’s permission to transfer all such petitions before the Supreme Court.
“Your lordship can have a holistic picture [about the matter], as it is an all-India issue,” he submitted.
The court accepted the request and listed Centre’s transfer petition along with the current case against media coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat event. The matter will now be taken after six weeks.