Don’t let people instigate law and order issues: SC on communalisation of Covid-19

The court has combined 3 petitions and asked for NBA to be impleaded as well


The Supreme Court, on May 27, has asked the Centre to submit a response in three combined petitions which seek strict action against the media for communalisation of the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi. The three petitioners are Jamiat-ulema-I-Hind, DJ Halli Federation of Masjid Madaaris and Wakf Institute.

The bench comprising CJI SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy further directed the petitioners to implead New Broadcasters Association (NBA) as a respondent to the petition and further asked Additional Solicitor General appearing for the Centre to file a reply explaining why no action was taken by the government under sections 19 [Power to prohibit transmission of certain programmes in public interest] and 20 [Power to prohibit operation of cable television network in public interest] of the Cable Televisions Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for one of the petitioners, Jamiat-ulema-I-Hind, emphasized on the urgency of the case and contended that fake news damages the secular fabric of the nation while urging the court to take immediate action. Legal news website, LiveLaw reported that Mr. Dave drew the court’s attention towards the allegedly communal reporting by the media which is in violation of the law and warranted some serious action.

CJI Bobde, stated, “Don’t let people instigate law and order issues, there are the things that later become law and order issues,” while addressing the Centre and seeking a response from it.

The petition filed by Jamiat-ulema-I-Hind states that the “unfortunate incident of the Tablighi Jamaat was being used to demonise and blame the entire Muslim community”. The petition also pointed out the fake news that was being propagated which has triggered communal antagonism. The petition also pointed towards the dangerously communal terms coined and used by the news media as well as social media such as ‘corona jihad’, ‘corona terrorism’, ‘islamic Insurrection’, ‘corona bombs’.

CJP’s campaign against communalisation of the Covid-19 pandemic by a section of the media

Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has called out the blatant communalisation of the pandemic. CJP has sent written complaints to news channels like India TV and India Today which had made false claims relating to Tablighi Jamaat and its connection with COVID19 as well as for sensationalizing and communalizing news reportage of the pandemic.

Naturally, the focus in news media is on the COVID19 pandemic in the country and it is in such times of extreme crisis that TV news media has indulged in creating “anti-Muslim narratives that viewers develop animosity towards their fellow members of society and even people who have lived in harmony, start discriminating against families belonging to Muslim communities.” For instance, India TV in one if its shows claimed, “Doctors and Experts are of the opinion that had Jamaatis not hidden themselves at Markaz (Nizamuddin) then the lockdown could have ended on April 15”, without any expert quotes or data to back the same. Further, India Today aired a show called “Madrasa Hotspots” whereby a sting operation was conducted on Madrasas, which serve as hostels for poor, destitute and orphaned children and they were compared with the Tablighi Jamaat incident saying that despite warnings, children are kept crammed up in Madrasas. The complaint questions why Madrasas were being selectively targeted saying, “If madrasas are doing something wrong by keeping children within their premises, taking care of their needs, then by that logic, your channel should go on to question orphanages and old age homes as well.”

In these complaints, CJP has brought the news channels’ attention to the fact that “Inciteful speech has been recognised by innumerable Judicial Commissions adjudicating into communally targeted pogroms (read “riots”) to have created a complicit public atmosphere where wider social sanction is given to such othering by hate which –after this kind of hate speech is widespread and systemic –then can lead to killing, later extermination.” It also emphasized that “such selective, sensational narratives created and promoted by the electronic media that influence social behaviour, legitimises the spread of exclusion and hate, and in extreme conditions leads to killing and violence”. 

The Complaints also bring to light how “hate propaganda and bigotry of the media has been punished as war crimes in Nazi Germany and Rwanda and has been analysed in international human rights jurisprudence as Journalism as Genocide. The theory being that consistent and targeted hate messages (against a section of the population, a community, caste, race or tribe) in the media have a direct effect on the dehumanisation of a population and create the conditions of the wider sections (majority) to consolidate and legitimise hatred against these sections. The onus lies must lie with the media to ensure that they engage in responsible journalism of presenting facts and complete information, without any malicious intent so that the public can form their own opinions without selectivity, bias and prejudice.”

While the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) is a quasi-judicial body that adjudicates upon complaints against content on TV news, if the Supreme Court takes a stand against such communalisation of news, it will certainly send a strong message to these media houses who seem to be misinterpreting the idea of freedom of press.


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