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A new Row on Tablighi Jamaat event

By Rishi Patodia-

During the hearing in the plea filed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind on issue of communalization of the Tablighi Jamaat gathering, the Supreme Court today said that governments do not act proactively till the courts direct them to.

“We have seen from our experience that governments do not act until we direct them to.”

The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian made this observation when Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave told the Court that in relation to false reporting on the Markaz gathering, it is only the government that can take action and not the self-regulatory bodies governing different sections of the media.

The Court went on to suggest making the National Broadcasters Association (NBA) a party in this plea filed by Jamiat.

The petitioner had sought for a curb against reportage on the Markaz gathering on the grounds that the coverage villainises the entire Muslim community. While the Court had arrayed the Press Council of India (PCI) as a party in the case at an earlier instance, the NBA was joined as a party today.

PCI, represented by Senior Advocate Prateek Kapur ,told the Court today that the body has taken cognizance of 50 instances of false or incendiary reportage and will be passing quasi-judicial orders soon. The NBA, represented by Advocate Nisha Bhambani, told the Court that it has received around 100 complaints.

Taking a view that it needed assistance from expert bodies, the Court sought reports from both the PCI and the NBA while fixing the next date for hearing after two weeks.

Dave, however, said that these were not expert bodies but merely advisory bodies and action, if any, can be taken only by the government. He also pointed out that the Centre seems to have taken an adversarial position in its affidavit filed before the Court.

The Court had earlier granted time to the Centre to file its response on the plea filed by Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind alleging that the Tablighi Jamaat issue was being communalized through media reportage. The Court had sought to know what steps have been taken by the government to ensure that the. reportage of the issue is not communalized.

The Centre, in its response filed on August 6, has claimed that while it has already taken steps to prevent any dissemination of false and provocative information, a blanket gag order cannot be passed against media reportage. This would effectively destroy the freedom of speech and expression and press freedom, the. Centre argued in its reply. It further stated,

“Such order would ionevitably impinge upon the freedom of the citizen to know about the affairs of the society and the tight of the journalist to ensure an informed society.”

Besides batting for journalistic freedom, the Centre has also pointed out that the petitioner itself acknowledges that prosecution in individual cases of such false reporting has begun. FIRs have been registered in cases where false reportage hurt religious sentiments of the public, while social media platforms have been issued advisories to ensure that circulation of offensive posts is curbed.

The authorities have also issued blocking orders against any posts that are offensive in nature, the affidavit details further. In light of all these steps, no further orders in the form of gag orders against the media need to be passed, the Centre submitted.

The plea by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind had claimed that the media has communalised the Nizamuddin Markaz event, where about 2,500 individuals congregated in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The petition filed through Advocate Ejaz Maqbool states that reports on the Tablighi Jamaat by certain sections of print and electronic media has “demonised the entire Muslim community.”

The plea further states that this demonization 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.”