Through a recent order, the Madras High Court refused to pass guidelines for regulation of the media amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while reiterating that it is for the Government of India to look into this aspect.
“This Court also takes judicial notice to the fact that though all the entities are covered under the relevant Statutes, visual media is not coming under the ambit of the Statute and it is for the Government of India to look into the said aspect and this Court is not going to the same,” the court said.
A division bench of Justice M. Sathyanarayanan and Justice M. Nirmal Kumar dismissed a petition filed by Advocate M. Zainul Abideen seeking for a direction to the Government to issue guidelines to Print Media and Visual Media with regard to the cautious presentation of the news items when it involves any news, update or information about Covid-19 Pandemic and further maintain confidentiality about the infected persons.
According to the petitioner, there are repeated news items in print as well as visual media stating among other things that certain persons who belong to a particular religion and who attended the conference at Delhi found to be affected by Covid-19, Pandemic and the names of the persons were published without their consent and without any authority and on account of the said fact they have faced social stigma. The petitioner also pointed out that especially Muslims are worstly affected, though their family members volunteered themselves for checkup and returned home after being tested negative in the Corona Covid-19 test.
This, he contended, was in complete derogation of the TRAI Rules and other transmission laws and in contravention with the Press & Registration of Books Act 1867.
After hearing both the parties via video conferencing, the court observed that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had already issued summary guidelines whereby the media had been cautioned not to disseminate unverified news, capable of causing panic in the public.
Further, the Court observed that apposite guidelines are already in place for the Press and it was only in the case of Visual Media that there’s a lacuna in the law.
“There are limitations available for the press media in the fact of supply of information, which can be gone into by the Press Council of India and appropriate action can be taken. Apart from that there are legal remedies available by way of filing a Suit for defamation as well as criminal prosecution under Sections 499 and 500 of I.P.C.,” the bench observed with respect to the Press.
With regard to the Visual Media the court added,
“As far as visual media is concerned, there are no regulation in force except self-regulation. There are no laws available as on today. In the Press and Registration of Books ACT, 1867, sufficient regulations were placed. If the petitioner is so aggrieved it is open to the petitioner to approach the Press council of India and News Broad Casting Standards Authority and this Court also takes judicial notice to the fact that though all the entities are covered under the relevant Statutes, visual media is not coming under the ambit of the Statute and it is for the Government of India to look into the said aspect and this Court is not going to the same.“
The order draws strength from a judgment of the Supreme Court in Sahara India Real Estate Corp. Ltd. & Ors. v. Securities & Exchange Board of India & Anr., (2012) 6 MLJ 772, whereby the court declined to any pass orders with respect to framing of guidelines for the visual media.
In addition to this the court clarified that in case any individuals are aggrieved on account of false information, they are entitled to avail the remedy through Common Law or by criminal prosecution.
The Petitioner had also sought that take strict legal action be initiated against persons who are spreading rumours and false information regarding the COVID 19 in Social Media, as the same may lead to enmity towards the persons of a particular religion.
However, the bench refused to interfere in the matter and dismissed the petition.
In related news, the Calcutta High Court High Court cautioned the media to dissuade itself from “irresponsible reporting” and intimated that it could verify the Court orders from the High Court website before reporting them.
Case Title: Adv. M. Zainul Abidee v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors.
Case No.: WP No. 7491/2020
Quorum: Justice M. Sathyanarayanan and Justice M. Nirmal Kumar
Appearance: Advocate A. Syed Kaleesha (for Petitioner); Special Government Pleader V. Jayaprakash Narayanan (for State)