The Supreme Court on Thursday said stopping hate on television was as essential for law and order as arming policemen with lathis and putting up barricades to prevent the spread of violence and riots.
“Control over certain kind of news which agitate people to violence and riots is a law and order problem. Preventing it is as powerful as putting up barricades. Preventing instigation is as important as providing lathis to policemen,” Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde, heading a three-judge Bench, addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre.
The CJI referred to how the government had shut down internet facility on January 26 amid violence during the farmers’ tractor rally.
“You shut down the internet mobile facility because of the farmers’ visit to Delhi ,” Chief Justice Bobde remarked.
“It can hardly be called a ‘visit’,” Mr. Mehta reacted.
“I was just using a non-controversial word,” Chief Justice Bobde replied.
The CJI said the court, by government control, did not mean to curb free speech on TV.
“People can take any tone on TV as long as they don’t incite violence, hatred, communal riots. We are interested only with people instigating and inciting violence and riots. These are situations which cause loss of lives and property. That is what we are worried about,” Chief Justice Bobde explained.
Mr. Mehta said the creation of such situations though “unfortunate” were “deliberate”.
The Chief Justice said the court had no problem with “fair and truthful reporting”.
“Fair and truthful reporting normally is not a problem. The problem is when it [broadcast, programmes] is used to agitate others. There are broadcasts, programmes that definitely have the effect of instigating people, not just against one community, but any community... Why are you blind to them... You don’t do anything about it?” Chief Justice addressed Mr. Mehta.
Mr. Mehta referred to how some channels end up with “rightfully or wrongfully guiding terrorists” during operations.
Chief Justice Bobde was reminded of the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. “I was a judge of the Bombay High Court,” the CJI said.
The hearing was based on a batch of petitions, including one filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which alleged that certain sections of the media communalised the Tablighi Jamat congregation by linking it to a spike in the spread of COVID-19 infection.
The court has been examining the question of efficacy of certain laws, including the Cable Television Networks Act of 1995, to prevent such scenarios.