Justice NV Ramana.
CJI N V Ramana said judiciary has always remained in the forefront of shaping the welfare state and the decisions of the constitutional courts have enabled social democracy to thrive | File Photo

Certain sections of media communalise everything, says CJI NV Ramana

The petitions, including one filed by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, seek directions to the Centre to stop dissemination of “fake news” related to last year’s gathering at Nizamuddin Markaz and want strict action against those responsible

A section of the media gives communal colour to news, bringing a bad name to the country, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana made the remarks while hearing petitions highlighting how some media outlets aired communal content linking the spread of the coronavirus to a Tablighi Jamaat gathering held at Nizamuddin in Delhi.

The petitions, including one filed by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, seek directions to the Centre to stop dissemination of “fake news” related to last year’s gathering at Nizamuddin Markaz and want strict action against those responsible. 

“The problem is, everything in this country is shown with a communal angle by a section of media. The country is going to get a bad name ultimately,” the bench said. “Did you [the Centre] ever attempt to regulate these private channels?” 

The bench also agreed to hear after six weeks the Centre’s plea seeking transfer of petitions to the apex court that are pending in high courts against the validity of the new digital media rules, which aims to regulate online content. 

Also read: Foreign Tablighi attendees made scapegoat, says Bombay HC, quashes FIR

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said “not only communal but also planted news” is there and the IT rules have been framed to regulate content online, including web portals. 

Social media only listen to powerful voices and several things are written against judges, institutions without any accountability, said the bench which also comprised Justices Surya Kant and A S Bopanna. 

Speaking for the bench, CJI Ramana said: “I have not come across where these social media, Twitter and Facebook, respond to common people. They never respond. There is no accountability. About the institutions, they have written badly and they do not respond and say that this is their right. 

“They only worry about powerful men and not judges, institutions or common man. That is what we have seen. This is our experience. 

“There is no control over fake news and slandering in web portals and YouTube channels. If you go to YouTube, you will find how fake news is freely circulated and anyone can start a channel on YouTube.” 

The court permitted the Jamiat to amend its petition and serve it within four weeks to the Centre through the solicitor general, who may file the response in two weeks thereafter. 

At the outset, Mehta sought an adjournment of hearing on the pleas by two weeks. Referring to a few last orders, the bench asked the Centre whether it had appointed any regulatory commission for such news contents on social media. 

Mehta referred to the affidavits of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting filed on November 13 last year and said that the real concern has been to strike a balance between freedom of press and the right of citizens to have access to unadulterated news. The bench said there seemed no control on web portals and sought to know if any mechanism has been put in place.

“For newspapers and television channels you have a regulatory mechanism. Are you suggesting that there is no such mechanism for web portals,” the bench asked. 

Mehta said the IT rules have been framed to regulate such online mediums including web portals. “There is some mechanism for newspapers and so far as the TVs are concerned, you have some self-regulatory mechanism and one retired Supreme Court judge is also there,” the CJI said. 

Also read: 101 former bureaucrats write to CMs flagging harassment of Muslims

The Centre has framed the statutory mechanism under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, and for online contents, the new IT rules have been framed, the law officer said. 

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for one of the Muslim bodies, concurred with the submissions of the law officer on new regimes put in place to regulate social media. 

The bench took note of Mehta’s plea that some high courts are seized of petitions challenging the new IT rules and for a holistic determination of the issues, they be transferred to the top court itself. 

The SC said it would hear the transfer plea with the present batch of petitions. Earlier, the Centre had told the apex court the petitioner Muslim bodies’ attempt to obtain a blanket “gag order” on the entire media to prevent them from reporting the Markaz Nizamuddin issue will effectively destroy the freedom of the citizenry to know and the right of journalists to ensure an informed society. 

The government had said that in the absence of any specific information about any objectionable news published or aired by a specific news channel/agency, the Constitution and the applicable statues do not give it any authority to unilaterally pass any censure order under the Cable Television Networks Rules.

Read More
Next Story