New Delhi: The Centre has once again defended the media’s reporting of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi, saying the news reports on the incident “predominantly stuck to a balanced and neutral perspective”.
In an affidavit filed last week, the Centre said “the majority of the leading national newspapers of the country including print editions such as The Times of India, The Indian Express and Hindustan Times have largely carried factual reports in this context”.
“Online news portals such as ThePrint and The Wire have also undertaken objective reporting, through news reports, and analysis, through opinion and editorial articles, of events concerning the Tablighi Jamaat,” it added.
The affidavit further said that “the media has made a clear distinction between the organisers and attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat event and the larger Muslim community in general”.
It also claimed that the petitioners has “selectively picked” only a few articles and other fact-check portals to “create an impression that the media had communalised the issue of Tablighi Jamaat and to create a false narrative about the role of media”.
The affidavit was submitted on petitions urging the top court to prevent communalisation of the Nizamuddin Markaz issue by certain sections of print and electronic media.
One of the petitioners, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, an advocacy body working for Muslims, had on 6 April moved the Supreme Court for directions to the government and media not to “demonise entire Muslim community over spread of Covid-19 due to Nizamuddin Markaz congregation of Tablighi Jamat”.
SC ‘disappointed’ with Centre’s response
However, during the hearing Tuesday, the Supreme Court expressed its displeasure with the Centre’s affidavit, saying it was “disappointed” with the response.
The bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde pointed out that the affidavit did not deal with the applicability of the Cable Television Networks Act and any action that can be taken under it.
The court told the Centre that it wants a legal regulatory regime for TV channels, and that self-regulation through private bodies like the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) isn’t good enough.
It then posted the matter after three weeks, giving time to the government to inform the court about putting such a regime in place.
In October, the Supreme Court had rubbished the Centre’s affidavit in which it had denied that media reports linking Covid-19 cases to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation were fake. The court had said the affidavit was full of “unnecessary” and “nonsensical averments”.
743 orders blocking content issued in April
The affidavit filed last week also said the central government has “issued several directions to prevent dissemination of fake news leading to abrogation of communal harmony”.
It submitted that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has issued several advisories informing websites and other platforms to remove fake news and misinformation concerning Covid-19. It said this was done in exercise of its powers under the Information Technology Act and the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009.
The Centre submitted that it has issued 743 orders of blocking such content over multiple platforms like Fakebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, in April.
“It may be noted that some of the aforesaid URLs were related to Tablighi Jamaat and were communal in nature as they were giving religious colour on Corona issue and were anticipated to create public order situation,” it said.
The affidavit also pointed out that the government took “immediate and effective steps” to prevent fake news, and also set up a fact-check unit in the Press Information Bureau specifically for Covid-19 in April this year.