New Delhi, September 17: The central government urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its suggestion of setting up a committee to lay down standards for electronic media in the country while hearing the matter of alleged hate speech against Muslims during a show on Sudarshan TV. 

In a preliminary affidavit, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said there are enough laws and legal precedents to govern the issue of journalistic freedom and responsible journalism. If at all, such an exercise has to be undertaken, the affidavit said, then it must not be limited to mainstream electronic media and must begin with digital media, BloombergQuint reported.

While in the mainstream media, whether electronic or print, the publication or telecast is a one-time act, the digital media has a faster reach from a wider range of viewership/readership and has the potential to become viral because of several electronic applications like WhatAapp, Twitter, Facebook, the central government said.

“Considering the serious impact and the potential, it is desirable that if this Hon’ble 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,” read the Central government’s affidavit in the Sudarshan TV case. 

The Supreme Court is hearing a petition against certain episodes of Sudarshan News TV’s show ‘Bindaas Bol’ show on Muslim representation in civil service that petitioners alleged amounted to hate speech. In its defence, the news channel argued that the show was an investigative exercise and raises issues pertaining to national security. It also indicated the involvement of foreign funding. 

After declining a pre-telecast stay, the top court on Tuesday stayed the broadcast of further episodes of the show after four went on air. The apex court found that prima facie, the intent of the show was to vilify Muslims. “India is a melting pot of civilizations, cultures, religions and languages. Any attempt to vilify a religious community must be viewed with grave disfavour by this court as the custodian of constitutional values,” the court, barring the telecast of the remaining show under the same or a different caption. After dictating the order on Tuesday, the bench suggested setting up a five-member committee to recommend standards for mainstream electronic media in the country. The top court said that the committee, if set up, would comprise of individuals with distinguished stature.

The government has now told the court that the case should be limited to deciding the issue of the episodes in question and a broader exercise must be avoided. “It is respectfully submitted that the fact 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 government said in its affidavit. The top court will take up the case of Sudarshan TV on Friday.

https://www.bloombergquint.com/law-and-policy/consider-regulating-digital-media-first-government-tells-supreme-court

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