SC's nod to mobile, internet shutdown in Delhi during farmers' violence

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 1/29/2021 12:38:11 PM

NEW DELHI, Jan 28: The Supreme Court on Thursday came down heavily on the government not curbing the TV programmes that instigate, stressing that the control over news is as important as preventive measures and checking the law and order situation.
"You are not doing anything about it," Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Centre.
The Bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, was commenting on a batch of petitions against the media reporting of Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizamuddin here in March last year during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic while approving the Internet and mobile shutdown in parts of Delhi on the Republic Day to tackle the farmers' tractor parade going berserk.
It was hearing the petitions by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and others on a section of the electronic media spreading communal hatred by blaming the Tablighi Jamaat membeers spreading the Coronavirus pandemic, seeking directions to the government to stop spread of such "fake news" that created a hatred against the Muslims.
The CJI said stopping internet and mobile services was as good as providing lathis to police as a preventive part of the law and order situation. He said the problem arises when fair and truthful reporting is not there and reports are used to agitate others.
"You shutdown the internet and mobile because of the farmers' visit to Delhi. I am using the non-controversial term. You have shut down because these are problems that can arise anywhere. I don't know what happened on TV on Tuesday," the CJI said.
The solicitor general offered to lay down all systems be they OTT, DTH, Cable service. The Bench sought the parties to file their affidavits in the matter within three weeks, ordering the hearing in the matter thereafter.
Last November, the Bench had asked the Centre to set up a regulatory mechanism to deal with the TV contents, while expressing its displeasure over the affidavit of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on the coverage of the Tabilighi congregation and seeking a fresh affidavit on a mechanism to regulate the electronic media under the Cable Television Network Act (CTNA).
“Fair and truthful reporting is normally not a problem. Problem is when it is used to agitate others," the CJI underlined. He said the Court is not interested in people saying anything on TV, but it is concerned about those programmes which have instigation effect." The next hearing is fixed on February 23.
"We are not stopping people saying anything, in any time on television, let them say that... We are on broadcast which can instigate and cause riots. There is loss of life. People say anything these days. There are situations which can destroy property, life, etc.," CJI- Bobde said.
He was responding to the solicitor general's contention that the government can't control live shows or debates. "There can't be pre-broadcast censorship. When there is something offending, we have taken actions by preventing channels to stop airing for a week, etc.," S-G Mehta said.



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