The Supreme Court Thursday said the complaints against a section of the media for allegedly spreading communal hatred over Tablighi Jamaat congregation here should first go to a body like National Broadcasting Association (NBA) for “preliminary determination”.
The top court had earlier sought reports from NBA and the Press Council of India (PCI) on the pleas of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Peace Party alleging that a section of the media is spreading communal hatred over the congregation in Delhi.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian asked the counsel for the Muslim bodies as to why they were not going before the regulatory bodies like NBA.
“If there is one body which is dealing with the issue, then why cannot you go there. We are not opposing the action but there should be prior verification,” the bench observed during the hearing conducted through video conferencing.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the petitioner, did not agree with the suggestion and said that he wanted the government to take action under the requisite statute.
The counsel for the NBA said it has received the complaints and has taken cognizance of several complaints against media houses.
NBA is not a company and is headed by Justice AK Sikri, a former apex court judge, the counsel for the regulatory body said.
The court then deferred the hearing on the pleas.
The court had earlier said that it would call a report from these bodies, NBA and PCI, and on that basis it will be giving directions.
The bench was hearing a batch of petitions including the one filed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has sought directions to the Centre to stop dissemination of “fake news” and take strict action against those responsible for it.
“We are not going to give any wrong decision because of time. We would like report from you (NBA) and Press Council of India. Mr Dave’s client may also appear before them,” the bench had said.
In its reply filed in the court, the Centre has said that the attempt to seek a blanket gag order against the entire media on the Tablighi Jamaat event at Markaz Nizamuddin Markaz here will effectively destroy the freedom of the citizen to know about the affairs of respective sections of the society in the nation as also the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society
It had said the relief sought in the petition is nothing but a relief akin to a blanket gag order against the entire media in respect of reporting of the Nizamuddin Markaz incident.
“In the respectful submission of the deponent, prayers of such sweeping nature ought not to be entertained by this court, in as much as, the same will inevitably result in muzzling, stifling and choking of free speech as guaranteed to the media house/journalist under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India,” the Centre had said in its reply affidavit.
On April 13, the top court had declined to pass any interim order on the plea of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind seeking to restrain a section of media from allegedly spreading bigotry and communal hatred by linking the spread of coronavirus with the recent Nizamuddin Markaz incident, saying it would “not gag the press”.
The apex court had also asked the Muslim body, which has alleged that a section of media is spreading communal hatred over the Tablighi Jamaat event at the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi, to implead the PCI as a party to the case.
The plea of Jamaat has alleged that unfortunate incident of Tablighi Jamaat event was being used to “demonise” and blame the entire Muslim community.
At least 9,000 people had participated in the religious gathering at Tablighi Jamaat”s headquarters in Nizamuddin West in March and the congregation became a key source for the spread of COVID-19 in India as many of the participants had travelled to various parts of the country for missionary works.
The plea has sought directions to the Centre to stop dissemination of fake news and take strict action against the section of the media spreading bigotry and communal hatred in relation to the Nizamuddin Markaz issue.
“It is submitted that such reporting has triggered communal antagonism and has also perpetrated hatred, resulting in fissiparous tendencies gaining foothold, undermining and affecting communal harmony,” the plea has said.
The petition further stated that this “demonisation” of the community has led to serious “threat to life and liberty of Muslims”, and has thus led to the violation of their “right to life under Article 21” of the Constitution.