In a case related to the media’s coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said "freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedoms in recent times”, reported NDTV.
According to Live Law, CJI Bobde, along with Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramaniun was hearing petitions that alleged that the media had violated all norms of journalistic conduct and had resorted to “dog whistle tactics” of targeting Muslims, in their coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat gathering.
According to LiveLaw, the petitions had also reportedly laid emphasis on the fact that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had not put an end to media’s smear campaign against the Muslim community, fulfilled its duty and gave equal protection of the law to all persons in India under Article 14 of the Constitution.
When senior advocate Dushyant Dave pointed out that the affidavit filed by the Centre says that the petition was trying to “muzzle freedom of speech”, CJI Bobde, according to Live Law, said:
“They are entitled to make any argument like you people are. This freedom of speech may be the most abused freedom in recent times.”
CJI Bobde Slams the Government
The Supreme Court also criticised the government for getting a junior officer to file an “extremely offensive and brazen” response, reported NDTV.
According to NDTV, the Centre has, in this case, sided with the media and said that there was “no instance of bad reporting”. The apex court, then, in a rebuke to the Centre, stated that the Centre must tell them instances of bad reporting, and what action had they taken.
“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 can you say there is no instance of bad reporting shown.”CJI Bobde
The top court has asked the government to file a fresh affidavit. Further, the Secretary of Information and Broadcasting Ministry has been asked to file it.
Further, the CJI asked the Centre to ensure that the fresh affidavit does not make “unnecessary nonsensical averments”, reported NDTV.
“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.”CJI Bobde
What Had Bombay High Court Said Earlier?
Previously in August, the Bombay High Court had quashed the FIRs filed against 29 foreign Tablighi Jamaat members and said in a strongly-worded judgment that they have been made “scapegoats”.
Bombay High Court’s Justice Nalawade, among his observations, had also criticised the media’s portrayal of foreign nationals who attended the Tablighi Jamaat, stating “There was big propaganda created in print and electronic media against these foreigners. It was virtually persecution against them.”
Attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat gathering had been linked to the spread of COVID-19 in India by certain sections of the media and government.
(With inputs from NDTV and LiveLaw.)