SC says it is disappointed with Centre’s affidavit on media reportage of Tablighi Jamaat gathering
CJI SA Bobde said the central government’s response was silent on a mechanism to regulate television content under the Cable Act.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it was “dissatisfied and disappointed” by the affidavit filed by the central government in a case related to the media reportage of members of the Tablighi Jamaat who were blamed for a surge in coronavirus cases, triggering a wave of violence and hate speech toward Muslims, Live Law reported.
“First you did not file a proper affidavit and then you filed an affidavit which did not deal with the two important questions,” a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, according to PTI. “This way it cannot be done Mr Mehta, we are not satisfied with your reply.”
The court was hearing a petition filed by the Jamaat Ulema-i-Hind against the communalisation of the Tablighi Jamaat gathering held in Nizamuddin area of Delhi in March.
Some sections of the media had linked the congregation for thousands of coronavirus infections around the country in the initial weeks of the nationwide lockdown which began on March 25. Relentless social media slander included the use of hashtags like #CoronaJihad. TV news channels like ABP Live called members of the Jamaat “manav bomb” or human bomb, a sentiment echoed by BJP leaders, including former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News said on his show that the “Tablighi Jamaat betrayed the nation”.
On October 8, the Supreme Court had pulled up the Centre for filing an affidavit stating that there “were no instances of bad reporting” on the Islamic missionary’s meeting. The court had referred to the Section 20 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, that allows to prohibit the operation of cable television network in public interest.
During the hearing on Tuesday, CJI Bode once again expressed his disappointment with the Centre’s response in the changed affidavit, saying it neither mentions anything about the applicability of Cable TV Act, nor does it specify any other regime for content regulation, according to Live Law.
“We must tell you that we are disappointed with the Union’s affidavit in these matters,” Justice Bobde told Mehta. “We had asked you to tell us what have you done under the Cable TV Act? There is no whisper about that in the affidavit.”
Mehta told the court that there was no regime for content regulation. “Cable is only a medium for the transmission of various channels and the Cable TV Act is dealing with the medium of transmission,” he said. “But there is a power under the Act to prohibit transmission. There is a committee [News Broadcasters Association, or NBSA] to watch channels.” The NBSA is an independent nine-member body set up by the News Broadcasters Association for self-regulation of 24X7 news channels
However, the Supreme Court rejected the argument and asked the Centre to set up a regulatory mechanism to deal with such content on TV. “Why should we refer to NBSA etc when you have the authority to look into it,” the CJI said. “If it does not exist, then you create an authority.”
The court posted the matter for hearing after three weeks.