The Supreme Court on Thursday criticised the Centre for not taking actions to curb certain television programmes, including news reports that can incite violence, PTI reported.

A bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian were hearing a batch of pleas alleging that sections of the media used “communal headlines” and “bigoted statements” while reporting on the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi last year, according to Live Law.

During Thursday’s proceedings, Bobde questioned Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented the Centre, on lack of action against such broadcasts, according to The Hindu.

“Fair and truthful reporting normally is not a problem,” Bobde said. “The problem is when it is used to agitate others. There are broadcasts, programmes that definitely have the effect of instigating people, not just against one community, but any community. Why are you blind to them...You don’t do anything about it?”

The court also cited the example of how the government had shut down internet in parts of Delhi on Tuesday, after violence broke out at the farmers’ tractor rally, PTI reported. “You have shut down mobile internet,” Bobde said. “These are problems that can arise anywhere. I don’t know what happened in the TV yesterday.”

Pointing out the possible use of laws, including the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1994, to control broadcast of content, the court said such actions were essential in maintaining law and order.

“Control over certain kind of news which agitate people to violence and riots is a law and order problem,” Bobde said, according to The Hindu. “Preventing it is as powerful as putting up barricades. Preventing instigation is as important as providing lathis to policemen.”

Responding to Bobde’s observations, Mehta that the Centre can stop broadcast of objectionable content and he will bring on record the details of instances where the government has exercised its powers under the Cable TV Act, reported Live Law.

Media coverage of Tablighi Jamaat congregation

In November last year, the Supreme Court had said it was “dissatisfied and disappointed” by an affidavit filed by the Centre in the case related to the media reportage of members of the Tablighi Jamaat who were blamed for a surge in coronavirus cases. The court had said that the Centre’s affidavit neither mentioned anything about the applicability of Cable TV Act, nor did it specify any other regime for content regulation.

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. Following this, the Jamaat Ulema-i-Hind filed a petition against alleged communalisation of the event.

Earlier in October too, 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.