The Supreme Court on Thursday chided the I & B Ministry for taking it for granted that there were no instances of coloured reporting by certain TV news channels while dealing with the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in March.
The claim has been made in an affidavit filed by the ministry which was described as “brazen” and “evasive.”
Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde, who is heading a three-judge Bench, took strong objection to the contents of the affidavit and told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta: “You can’t treat this court in the way you are treating in this case.”
The case was adjourned for two weeks and a fresh affidavit has been sought.
The court said the affidavit filed by a junior ranking officer in the Ministry was extremely offensive and brazen, asserting that the government must give instances of bad reporting and what action it has taken in such cases.
Observing that “the right to free speech is one of the most abused rights these days,” CJI Bobde said the contents of the affidavit were “unnecessary and nonsensical” as they do not address the averments made in the petition by Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, seeking action against certain media houses, including visual media, for communalization of the Nizamuddin Jamaat congregation.
CJI Bobde accordingly directed filing of a fresh affidavit by the secretary of the ministry. Solicitor General Mehta assured the court that he would be personally vetting the affidavit.
He also told senior counsel Dushyant Dave that Section 20 0f the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, only deals with cable TV network and not the airwaves of visual media. He had urged the court in the last hearing that this Act could be evoked to take action against erring channels.
Referring to the government affidavit, Dave said that I&B Ministry has said that it has taken recourse to Section 20 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act to take action against news channels in the past.
“Just because they have acted under Section 20 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, does not validate their action. They should act under the powers vested in them,” CJI Bobde countered.
Section 20 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, which provides for the power to prohibit operation of cable television network in public interest, says, “Where the Central Government thinks it necessary or expedient, to do so in public interest, it may prohibit the operation of any cable television network in such areas as it may deem fit, by notification in the Official Gazette.”
CJI Bobde once again reiterated the court's intent to refer the entire matter to the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) to examine the issue and submit a report. The NBSA is headed by former apex court judge Justice A. K. Sikri.
Dave had earlier resisted the suggestion, telling the court that the News Broadcasting Standards Authority is a voluntary body without any statutory backing and toothless, since its findings are not enforceable.