Supreme Court on media reporting: ‘Freedom of speech most abused liberty’

Chief Justice SA Bobde was critical of Centre’s response to a petition filed against media reporting on the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in Delhi in March

Supreme Court

Terming ‘freedom of speech’ as the most abused liberty, the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday rebuked the Centre for having a junior officer file its response to a case related to media reporting on the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at a Delhi mosque in violation of virus restrictions in place.

“Freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedoms in recent times,” Chief Justice SA Bobde commented during a video-linked hearing on petitions filed by the Jamiat-Ulema-I-Hind asking for action against the media for “spreading hatred” over the Tablighi meet at Markaz Nizamuddin.

The Tablighi meet that happened in the month of March, just days before the lockdown was declared, lead to controversy as it was accused of becoming a coronavirus super-spreader with many cases across the country linked to those who had attended the meeting.

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The Centre stood by the media in this case and told the Supreme Court that there was “no instance of bad reporting”. The Supreme Court not only berated the government on its affidavit but asked it to “tell instances of bad reporting” and the action against such media houses.

The Centre will now have to file a fresh affidavit, this time by the Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

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“You cannot treat this court the way you are treating it. Some junior officer has filed the affidavit. Your affidavit is evasive and says petitioner shows no instance of bad reporting. You may not agree but how you can say there is no instance of bad reporting shown,” Chief Justice SA Bobde said. Besides the Chief Justice, the bench included Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

On the petition alleging cases of fake news against Tablighi Jamaat, Justice Bobde said: “The Secretary must tell us what he thinks of the incidents pointed out by the petitioner. We find it extremely evasive. The affidavit does not make any response on the allegations made by the petitioners on some TV channels spreading hatred.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case again two weeks later.

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