‘Media communalising coronavirus’: SC says can’t curb press freedom

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday refused to pass any interim orders in a petition seeking action against the media for communalising the coronavirus pandemic in light of the Tablighi Jamaat meeting held in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in early March. India’s Union health ministry has reported 9,352 coronavirus cases and 324 patients have died.

The court said it cannot gag the media and asked the petitioners to make the Press Council of India a party to the case, Bar and Bench reported. “We cannot curb the freedom of press,” a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said.

The petitioners said there was violence due to the “communal headlines” and “bigoted statements” in the media about Tablighi Jamaat members and Muslims. Advocate Ejaz Maqbool added that there were cases of violence against Muslims in Karnataka and that names of patients had been made public.

To this, the court said that if it was a question of killing or defamation, “then your remedy is somewhere else”. But, “if it’s a question of larger reporting then PCI has to be made party”, the judges added. The case may be taken up by the court next week.

The petition, filed by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, had claimed that the media had communalised the Nizamuddin Markaz event and that some sections of print and electronic media had “demonised the entire Muslim community”.

This has led to serious “threat to life and liberty of Muslims” and the violation of their “Right to life under Article 21”, the petition said, adding that most reports had used terms such as “Corona Jihad”, “Corona Terrorism” and “Islamic Resurrection”.

Not stopping such communal reporting would only “promote ill-will, enmity and hatred towards the Muslim community in India”, the petition added. It also pointed out that several social media posts wrongly showed Muslims doing deliberate acts to spread the virus but these were debunked.

Such fake reports were a violation of the Supreme Court’s March 31 order directing media outlets “to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated”, the petition added.

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