Regulate digital media first, Centre tells Supreme Court

It was responding to a court proposal while staying broadcast of a show on Sudarshan TV

September 17, 2020 09:40 am | Updated 07:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

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The Union government on Thursday said the Supreme Court should frame guidelines drawing the line between journalistic freedom and responsible journalism for digital media first rather than mainstream electronic and print media.

Also read: Supreme Court stays Sudarshan TV show broadcast

Web-based news portals, YouTube channels as well as Over The Top (OTT) platforms had huge potential to become viral. Unlike mainstream publication and telecast, digital media was perpetually widening its viewership, like in a loop, through multiple web and social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. Hence, what was written or shown in digital media had “serious impact and potential”, the government said.

It was responding to a proposal by the court to frame guidelines against communal and derogatory content in mainstream media. The court had mooted the idea while staying the broadcast of show “Bindas Bol” on Sudarshan TV on September 15. The show is accused of “vilifying” members of the Muslim community who join the civil services.

On Thursday, senior advocate Anup Chaudhuri, for petitioner Firoz Iqbal Khan, urged the court to initiate contempt against Suresh Chavhanke, the show’s anchor and the channel’s editor-in-chief, for his tweets published after the stay order.

Also read: Delhi HC stays airing of show on Sudarshan News

“Mr. Chaudhuri, if he [Chavhanke] has said something, we will ignore”, Justice Chandrachud responded, before adjourning the case to Friday.

It was only recently the court punished civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan for contempt because of his tweets.

Justifies content

In a separate affidavit, Mr. Chavhanke justified the content of his programme. He maintained that “there is no statement or message in the four episodes broadcast that members of a particular community should not join UPSC”.

Also read: Retired bureaucrats demand action against Sudarshan TV

The Centre’s 33-page affidavit is not limited to Sudarshan TV. It focuses on the larger aspect of framing of media guidelines. It said digital media should not be overlooked at any cost.

The government reasoned, “While in a mainstream media [whether electronic or print], the publication / telecast is a one-time act, the digital media has faster reach”.

On September 15, the court underlined that “journalistic freedom is not absolute”.

Editorial | Stop press: On blanket gag order against the media

Justice Joseph on the Bench had said, “Journalists need to be fair in their debates. We have to remember that their freedom is the same as that of any other citizen”.

Justice Chandrachud had referred to how media tend to cover only one part of an investigation. Media had a duty to comment fairly. “Reputation and image cannot be damaged... Media cannot fall foul of standards prescribed by themselves”, he said.

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