The Supreme Court has sought clarity from the Central Government about the powers under Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 to control broadcast of content (by electronic media), that has a tendency to incite violence.
The top court was hearing a batch of petitions filed against several news reports allegedly responsible for communalisation of the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in 2020.
According to LiveLaw, a Bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde said, “We aren’t concerned so much with what people are saying, people say anything these days. We are concerned with situations that may create violence and lead to loss of property and life.”
The petitioners have alleged that certain sections of the media used communal headlines and bigoted statements to demonise and blame the entire Muslim community of deliberately spreading the Coronavirus across the country, in the backdrop of the Tablighi Jamaat event in New Delhi, last year.
The CJI today asked the Central Government about its powers under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act and Program Code to prevent broadcast of inciteful content and threat to the law-and-order situation.
A couple of minutes into the hearing, the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the Government can stop broadcast of objectionable content and he will bring on record the details of instances where the Government has exercised its powers under the Act. The SG said that there is a group under the Ministry to monitor broadcast content for violations of the Programme Code.
The top court Bench pointed out that there was ambiguity in section 19 of the Cable TV Act that lays down the power to prohibit transmission of certain programmes in public interest. The court desired to know if it would include a “broadcaster” or only a cable TV network.
The Bench observed that the amendment adding the definition of “broadcaster” in the Cable TV Act does not reflect in the penal provisions of Section 19 and 20, as reported by LiveLaw. The Solicitor General replied that he will look into the issue of ambiguity and will file an affidavit and they were given three weeks’ time to do the same.
In April, last year, the Supreme Court had asked the Central Government about the action taken against media outlets, under the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act, 1995. In October, 2020, on the same matter, Chief Justice Bobde had slammed the Centre for its ‘extremely offensive and brazen’ affidavit.
The Chief Justice reportedly asked, “You cannot treat this court the way you are treating it. Some junior officer has filed the affidavit. Your affidavit is evasive and says the petitioner shows no instance of bad reporting. You may not agree but how can you say there is no instance of bad reporting shown?”
Further, in November, 2020 the court had expressed displeasure at the second affidavit filed by the Ministry too. “We are not satisfied with your affidavit. We had asked you to tell us what you have done under the Cable TV Act? There is no whisper about that in the affidavit. We must tell you that we are disappointed with the Union’s affidavit in these matters”, CJI reportedly said.
He reportedly asked, “We want to know the mechanism employed by you and this affidavit has nothing on it. Why should we refer to NBSA etc when you have the authority to look into it? If it does not exist, then you create an authority, else we will hand it over to an outside agency?”
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