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Will not gag press, implead PCI as party to the case: SC to Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday declined to pass any interim order on the plea of a Muslim body seeking to restrain a section of media from allegedly spreading bigotry and communal hatred by linking the spread of coronavirus with the recent Nizamuddin Markaz incident, saying it would “not gag the press”.

The apex court also asked Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, which has alleged that a section of media is spreading communal hatred over last month’s Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi, to implead the Press Council of India (PCI) as a party to the case.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, which heard the matter through video-conference, said it would not pass any interim order in the matter at this stage and posted the plea for hearing after two weeks.

“We will not gag the press,” the bench, also comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao and M M Shantanagoudar, told the counsel appearing for the petitioner.

The bench was hearing a plea filed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has sought directions to the Centre to stop dissemination of “fake news” and take strict action against those responsible for it.

The plea has alleged that unfortunate incident of Tablighi Jamaat was being used to “demonise” and blame the entire Muslim community.

At least 9,000 people had participated in the religious gathering at Tablighi Jamaat’s headquarters in Nizamuddin West last month and the congregation became a key source for the spread of COVID-19 in India as many of the participants had travelled to various parts of the country for missionary works.

During the hearing on Monday, the counsel appearing for the petitioner claimed that media reporting and government reports are constantly talking about Tablighi spreading coronavirus in the country.

“We think you add the Press Council of India as a party to the case,” the bench said, adding, “Press Council of India is a necessary party to the case. Implead them and thereafter we will hear this”.

When the petitioner’s counsel claimed that people were being attacked because of media reports, the bench observed, “We want to make solid long term measures about the news items. Once we take cognizance people will understand.”

“If it is a question of killing or defamation, then your remedy lies somewhere else. But if it is a question of larger reporting, then Press Council of India has to be made a party,” the bench said.

The plea has sought directions to the Centre to stop dissemination of fake news and take strict action against the section of the media spreading bigotry and communal hatred in relation to the Nizamuddin Markaz issue.

“It is submitted that such reporting has triggered communal antagonism and has also perpetrated hatred, resulting in fissiparous tendencies gaining foothold, undermining and affecting communal harmony,” the plea has said.

The petition further stated that this “demonisation” 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” of the Constitution.

It has also sought direction to all sections of media to strictly comply with the Supreme Court directions asking them to maintain strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news is not disseminated.

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