The Centre on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to bar media outlets from printing, publishing or telecasting any information about Covid-19 without ascertaining facts with the government. The top court refused to interfere with “free discussion” about the pandemic, but directed the media to “refer to and publish” the official version about the developments.

The government had made the request in a status report it submitted to the top court while responding to petitions, seeking directions for the welfare of migrant workers in cities amid the countrywide lockdown in place to curb the spread of the pandemic. Earlier in the day, the court directed the Centre to ensure that basic facilities were provided to the migrant workers, most of whom have lost their livelihood. The court also emphasised on the need to provide counselling to the migrant workers to ease their fears.

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In the status report filed before the court, the Centre said: “In an unprecedented situation of this nature, any deliberate or unintended fake or inaccurate reporting either in electronic, print, social media, and particularly in web portals has a serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in large sections of the society. Considering the very nature of the infectious disease which the world is struggling to deal with, any panic reaction by any section of the society based upon such reporting would not only be harmful for such situation but would harm the entire nation.”

The government said that it would be in “the largest interest of justice” for the court to issue a direction for the media not to publish or telecast anything “without first ascertaining the true factual position from the separate mechanism” provided by the Centre.

The government sought the direction while highlighting that “creation of panic” was an offence under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

In its final order, the top court said: “...we expect the Media (print, electronic or social) to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated. A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people would be made active within a period of 24 hours as submitted by the Solicitor General of India. We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media [to] refer to and publish the official version about the developments.”