Regulate digital media first before TV and print media, Centre tells Supreme Court

 thehindu.com  09/17/2020 04:15:30 

The 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.

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 Centre said.

Also read: The politics of hate speech

While in a mainstream media (whether electronic or print), the publication / telecast is a one-time act, the digital media has faster reach from wider range of viewership / readership and has the potential to become viral because of several electronic applications like WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook.... Considering the serious impact and the potential, it is desirable that if this 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, the 33-page affidavit by the Centre said.

The counter affidavit was filed in response to a proposal by the court to frame guidelines in relation to airing of programmes with communal and derogatory content in the electronic media. A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had stayed the broadcast of a show Bindas Bol aired by Sudarshan News channel till further orders.

It had said the object of the show prima facie was to vilify the Muslim community and accuse it of surreptitiously trying to infiltrate the civil services.

Journalistic freedom

Justice K.M. Joseph, on the Bench, had said journalists were bestowed with their power of free speech on behalf of the people.

Journalistic freedom is not absolute. 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 Joseph had said.

Justice Chandrachud had referred to how media tends to cover only one part of an investigation. Media had a duty to comment fairly.

Reputation and image can be damaged, Justice Chandrachud had observed.

Justice Joseph suggested public transparency in ownership, shareholding patterns and revenue flow of visual media houses. He referred to whether government could pump in or hold back advertisements. The judge also pointed to the conduct of TV anchors on air, muting their panellists or grabbing the limelight for themselves and giving others hardly any opportunity to air their point of view.

Media cannot fall foul of standards prescribed by themselves, Justice Chandrachud had said.

The court had said it would welcome the best minds in the country to suggest measures and guidelines. The Bench had, however, categorically said the exercise to frame guidelines on media conduct could not be left to the State.

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