Freedom of speech is among the most-abused liberties in recent times, the Supreme Court said today, berating the government for having a “junior officer” file an affidavit on media reporting on the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at a Delhi mosque in violation of virus restrictions.
“Freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedoms in recent times,” Chief Justice SA Bobde commented during a hearing on petitions asking for action against the media for “spreading hatred” over the Tablighi meet at Markaz Nizamuddin. The meeting in March generated a huge controversy as it became a coronavirus super-spreader with many cases across the country linked to those who had attended the gathering.
The centre has defended the media in this case and said in its response to the Supreme Court that there was “no instance of bad reporting”.
The Supreme Court pulled up the centre for what it called an “extremely offensive and brazen” affidavit and said the government “must tell us instances of bad reporting” and what action had been taken.
The government has been asked to file another affidavit, this time by the Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, on the petition seeking action against some TV channels.
“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 you can say there is no instance of bad reporting shown,” the Chief Justice questioned.
Referring to the petition citing alleged instances of fake news on the Tablighi Jamaat members, Justice Bobde said: “The Secretary must tell us what he thinks of the incidents pointed out by the petitioner. We find it extremely evasive. The comment does not make any response on the allegations made by the petitioners on some TV channels spreading hatred.”
Asking for a do-over, the Chief Justice sternly said the fresh affidavit “should not make unnecessary nonsensical averments”.
The Supreme Court said it would take up the case after two weeks.
Petitions by the Jamiat-Ulema-I-Hind and others have called for action against sections of the media over what they call “fake news” and for spreading hate. Besides the Chief Justice, the bench included Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian. They heard the case through video-link.