If Govt Can’t Check Fake News, Will Give Job to Outside Agency: SC

The top court asked the Centre “to consider evolving a mechanism to address issues with content on TV.”

Updated
India
3 min read
The Supreme Court of India. 
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Should the central government fail to check television channels from airing fake news and bigotry, the job could well be handed over to an external agency, the Supreme Court remarked on Tuesday, 17 November.

Responding to an affidavit filed by the Union Information & Broadcasting Ministry in a Tablighi Jamaat petition, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the court disappointed with the Centre’s affidavit.

“Why should we ask private entities like NBSA, etc, when you [the Centre] have the authority? If such an authority does not exist, create one... If you cannot, then we will hand it over to an outside agency.”
The Supreme Court

The apex court’s displeasure at an affidavit filed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry Secretary Amit Khare, in response to a petition filed against the alleged communal coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi by certain mainstream television news channels.

‘Your Affidavit is Silent on It’

The bench asked the Centre to specify how Cable TV Network Act can be used to control the content of Cable TV network.

“We are disappointed with your affidavit. It does not contain a whisper about what you have done under the Cable TV Act... We are not satisfied... We want to know how you are employing the Cable TV Act. We want to know the quantum of applicability of the Act... What is the legal remedy when there are complaints?”

“The mechanism – your affidavit is silent on it. Please put all these in your amended affidavit. You (the Centre) have the power under the Act,” added the bench.

The top court has asked the Centre to inform it what mechanism is available under the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act and what action can be taken against fake news in three weeks.

What Did the Affidavit Say?

While petitioners alleged that TV channels had given the Tablighi even a communal spin, the affidavit filed by the I&B Ministry said that reportage on the matter largely followed a “balanced and neutral perspective.”

It said that part of their journalistic and editorial exercise, media houses are free to cover any aspect or issue as they please and that it was upto the viewer to choose among a rage of different perspectives offered before her eyes.

It also said that the petition had made vague assertions, based on “fact-checking news reports.”

‘Governments Do Not Act Till We Direct Them To’

In August, the Supreme Court, during the hearing of the plea by Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, which cited the 'demonising’ of the minority because of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation by various media organisations, had said the governments do not act till we direct them to.

The top court had observed "We have seen from our experience that governments do not act until we direct them to." The Chief Justice added he is not criticising Mehta but the government does not act until we direct. "That is why this system is here," added the bench.

The top court had suggested making National Broadcasters Association (NBA) a party in this plea. The Press Council of India (PCI) counsel had contended before the bench it has taken cognisance of 50 instances of false reporting.

The counsel for NBA said it had received around 100 complaints.

The top court noted that it would need assistance from expert bodies on this issue and sought reports from NBA and PCI. Jamiat's counsel had contended these bodies merely play an advisory role and if there is any action then the government can only take it.

The pleas filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool said: "By communalising the issue and demonising the entire Muslim community, the actions of the media pose a serious threat to the life and liberty of Muslims across the country. The demonisation is also an infringement of the right to live with dignity which is also covered under Article 21 of the Constitution."

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