Unchecked digital media a threat: Centre

They are capable of spreading venomous hatred, terror and violence, it tells SC

Updated - November 28, 2021 01:15 pm IST

Published - September 21, 2020 11:36 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

An unchecked digital media is capable of spreading “venomous hatred,” terror and violence, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday.

It can tarnish reputations of institutions and individuals. In fact, the digital media has already done all of this, the government told the court. The court should first train its attention on digital media, it said.

‘Wide reach’

“It is the need of the hour that the court start first with ‘web-based digital media’ which includes ‘web magazines’ and ‘web-based news channels’ and ‘web-based newspapers’. They not only have a very wide reach but are completely uncontrolled,” the government’s 89-page affidavit said.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had asked the government for suggestions to improve the self-regulatory mechanism for electronic media. The government replied, asking the court to instead focus on digital media rather than mainstream ones.

 

The court’s move had come in the aftermath of an injunction ordered on Sudarshan TV’s ‘Bindas Bol’ programme. This show had accused Muslims of “infiltrating” the civil services with the help of funding from terror-linked organisations abroad.

On Monday, Justice Chandrachud said the court was “very concerned about the balance between free speech in the media and the right of dignity of a community.” The judge asked the lawyers to lead arguments on whether the court could order a blanket injunction of a programme or should restrict itself to only those portions which hurt a community.

‘Chilling effect’

Advocate Saideepak J., appearing for an intervenor, said the court should spare a thought about the “chilling effect” on free speech before it flexes its powers of injunction.

Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, for Sudarshan TV, urged the court to lift the injunction on Bindas Bol. He said the show, in his perception, met the requirements of the Programme Code under the Cable TV Act and required no change of tone in its next episodes.

But Mr. Jain asked the judges to watch the entire four episodes. He said he was willing to pause and explain any scene.

Justice Chandrachud reacted that in a “civilised jurisprudence” no man asks the court to read a 700-page book from cover to cover and offer to explain any point in it which needed explanation.

Advocate Shadan Farasat, for the petitioner Firoz Iqbal Khan, said the channel might not opt to delete/change certain portions, because the very show was hate speech.

At one point, the court asked when the offensive remarks made in the media crossed over into the domain of hate speech.

Mr. Farasat said hate speech in media was not a ramble. Hate speech comes dressed as small nuggets of facts, and a lot depends on the tenor, tone and manner of their presentation.

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