Citing press freedom, the Centre has told the Supreme Court that the spread of Covid-19 among attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat convention in Nizamuddin Markaz, attacks on health workers by some sections, etc, were all matters of fact and that “news reports based on facts… cannot be censored”.
“All the aforesaid facts are neither per se false nor per se fake. Though in isolated cases it may be exaggerated… news reports based on facts which are not prima facie not per se false or fake cannot be censored under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India,” the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said in an affidavit filed in the top court.
The affidavit was filed in response to a plea by the Jamiat-Ulama-I-Hind, which sought directions to prevent what it claimed was the communalisation of the Nizamuddin Markaz issue by certain sections of the print and electronic media.
Taking note, a bench headed by Chef Justice S A Bobde on Friday sought responses from the Press Council of India (PCI) and National Broadcasters Association (NBA).
The PCI counsel told the bench — also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian — that it had taken cognizance of “around 50 cases” and will be passing orders on the quasi-judicial side.
The Centre’s affidavit said that the plea raised grievances against “certain section of media” without naming any and “certain news reports” without producing these reports. Instead, it “merely relied upon ‘certain fact check news reports’ to contend that entire media is perpetrating communal disharmony and hatred towards Muslims, and is therefore required to be censured/gagged”, the government said.
Saying that no relief should be granted on the basis of such “general assertions”, the ministry said that “attempt to seek a blanket ‘gag order’ against the entire media in respect of Markaz Nizamuddin will effectively destroy freedom of the citizen to know about the affairs of the respective sections of the society in the nation and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society”.
The government said that it is only per se false and fake news that do not enjoy constitutional protection of free speech and pointed to instances where prosecution has been launched in individual cases of false reporting. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had issued directions to social media platforms to remove/block 739 URLs and four accounts that spread misinformation on the virus that could lead to communal disharmony
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