'Regulate digital media first': Centre tells Supreme Court in Sudarshan News 'UPSC Jihad' case

The Centre in its affidavit told SC that digital media has the potential to go viral due to apps like WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook

Press Trust of India September 17, 2020 16:32:21 IST
'Regulate digital media first': Centre tells Supreme Court in Sudarshan News 'UPSC Jihad' case

File image of Supreme Court of India. Reuters

New Delhi: The Centre told the Supreme Court that if it considers regulating the media, such an exercise should be first undertaken with the digital media as news on it spreads quicker and has the potential to go viral due to applications such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.

The government told the apex court that sufficient framework and judicial pronouncements already exist for the electronic and the print media.

“Considering the serious impact and the potential, it is desirable that if this court decides to undertake the exercise, it should first be undertaken with regard to digital media as there already exists sufficient framework and judicial pronouncements with regard to electronic media and print media,” said the counter-affidavit, filed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

“It is submitted that while in a mainstream media (whether electronic or print), the publication telecast is a one-time act, the digital media has faster reach from wider range of viewership/ readership and has the potential to become viral because of several electronic applications like Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook,” it said.

The affidavit was filed in a pending matter in which the top court is hearing a petition over Sudarshan TV’s ‘Bindas Bol’ programme whose promo had claimed that channel would show the ''big expose on conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service".

A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud had on 15 September restrained the channel from telecasting its programme, saying “the intent” of aired episodes “prima facie” appears to “vilify” the community.

The bench had suggested that a committee of apolitical experts of distinguished citizens or former judges may be appointed to help in self-regulating the electronic media.

In its affidavit, the Centre has said that “subject matter of the present petition namely balancing between journalist freedom and responsible journalism is a field already occupied either by the statutory provisions made by the Parliament or by the judgments of this court”.

“It is respectfully submitted that in view of the issue having already received attention of the Parliament, as well as, of this court, the present petition be confined to only one channel namely Sudarshan TV and this court may not undertake the exercise of laying down any further guidelines with or without appointment of an amicus or a committee of persons as amicus,” the affidavit said.

It said that situation in each case shall have to be decided on a case-to-case basis and a broader exercise “which is too general in nature is neither warranted nor permissible”.

The affidavit said, “Even if this court considers it appropriate to undertake the said exercise, there is no justification to confine this exercise only to mainstream electronic media. The media includes mainstream electronic media, mainstream print media as well as a parallel media namely digital print media and digital web-based news portal and You Tube channels as well as ‘over the top’ platforms (OTTs).”

Referring to earlier verdicts delivered by the apex court, the affidavit said it lays down the correct legal proposition requiring no general exercise to be undertaken merely based upon one episode or few episodes of a channel.

Separately, Sudarshan TV has also filed an affidavit in the apex court claiming that it has no ill-will against any community or any individual and the programme concerns a matter of grave national interest.

The channel claimed that it has used words like ‘UPSC jihad’ in its programme as an institute for Muslim UPSC aspirants has received foreign funds, also from those linked to organisations that allegedly fund extremist groups.

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