New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said that the governments in the country did not act till the court directed them.
“We have seen from our experience that governments do not act until we direct them,” a bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said.
“That is why this system is here,” the court remarked.
The observation came during hearing of a plea filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind that alleged “demonising of the Muslim minority” in the wake of Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi in March.
The Chief Justice said that the criticism is not aimed at Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave submitted before the bench regarding news reports on the Jamaat event, and insisted that only the government can take action and not the self-regulating bodies governing the media.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in an affidavit filed through advocate Rajat Nair, informed the top court that it cannot gag the media from reporting on the Jamaat issue.
The Centre claimed that steps have already been taken to prevent any dissemination of false and provocative information, and a blanket gag order cannot be passed against media reportage, as this could effectively harm the freedom of speech and expression and press freedom.
“The Ministry has also taken suitable action against violation of programme codes, including issuance of advisory, warning, running an apology scroll, or taking a channel off air for a specific time period… it is submitted that news reports based on facts cannot be censured under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution,” said the affidavit.
The top court suggested making National Broadcasters Association (NBA) a party to the plea.
Press Council of India (PCI) counsel, Senior Advocate Prateek Kapur, contended that it had taken cognisance of 50 instances of false reporting. The NBA counsel 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 while scheduling the next date of hearing after two weeks.
Dave contended that these bodies merely play an advisory role and if there is any action, only the government can take it.
The pleas filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool said: “By communalising the issue and demonising the entire Muslim community, the actions of (section 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.”