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"All this hatred has been provoked due to political obscenity and Islamic hatred politics", the petitioner says, adding that, "The Media should behave responsibly and sensitively in this war-like situation."
The Madras High Court today as the State and Central Governments to respond on a plea seeking directions to curb the linking of the COVID-19 pandemic to the Muslim community and communalised reporting targeting Muslims amid the pandemic.
In particular, the plea filed by the State General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) through Advocates A Raja Mohamed, MA Sahul Hameed and A Yousuff Imran calls for action gainst media outlets communalising the pandemic in their reportage following the Tablighi Jamat episode.
The matter was taken up on Thursday by a Division Bench of Justices R Subbiah and R Pongiappan, before whom Senior Advocate Abdul Mubeen appeared.
The Court has now directed the State to file a status report in the matter in two weeks' time. Further, the Central Government has also been directed to file a counter.
In his plea, the petitioner states that the Tablighi Jammat religious meet was planned a year ago. Pertinently, there were no curbs on religious events, meetings etc. until March 24 when the national lockdown was announced, it is pointed out. On the other hand, the petitioner highlights that the Tablighi Jamat was conducted prior to this date, and after notifying concerned officials about the same.
In this backdrop, the petitioner has raised grievance that
“… certain section of the media , instead of exercising restraint, reported the entire incident with a communal flavour, with phrases such as 'Corona Jihad', 'Corona Terrorism', 'Islamic Insurrection', 'Corona Bombs' ,Etc., It was apparent that the unfortunate incident of the Tablighi Jamat was belong used to demonise and blame the entire Muslim Community.”
It is further highlighted that there were several fake reports and videos circulated online to show Muslims in a bad light, worsening the situation.
“For instance, a fake video of Sufi followers indulging in mass sneezing or another fake video showing Muslim person licking vessels allegedly to perpetrate the spread of corona Virus in the Country. The social media websites were flooded with such videos demeaning the Muslim Community, without any basis.”
The petitioner goes on to raise concern that these developments following close in the heals of the Delhi Riots of February 2020, owing to which a sensitive, tense situation is already prevailing in the nation.
“Therefore, such reporting will only deteriorate the circumstances. It is need of the hour that the entire nation is united tin the fight against the Corona Virus COIVD -19 and any reporting on communal angle will hamper and undermine the same. It is therefore necessary the media is directed to tread with caution and is warned against the giving any communal angle to the Nizamuddin Markaz incident… When everyone is hooked up to one service or other, the media engages in itself by hurling allegations that a particular community is spreading the pandemic and also terming them as 'Super Spreaders' or connoting as 'Corona Jihad.'”
It is contended that,
After referring to several Tamil reports stated to have added a communal angle to the reporting on COVID-19, the petitioner also argues that the Principal Secretary of the State Health Department has also contributed to the problem, give that she “always points out the name of the Delhi Tablighi Jamaat” in her press meets.
The petition contends that such biased reporting is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution, the he Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, norms of Journalistic conduct and the principles of secularism, apart from being contrary to the Supreme Court’s direction that media outlets maintain a strong sense of responsibility in reporting on COVID-19.
Apart from seeking a general direction for steps to curb the communalisation of COVID-19, the petitioner has also sought that action be taken in over 200 complaints that have been made with respect to spreading fake news and bigotry through the communal reporting on COVID-19.
A similar plea is presently pending before the Supreme Court. On Monday, a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde refused to hear the petition by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind given that the Press Council of India (PCI) was not made a party.
Responding to oral requests that the matter be heard on the same day, the CJI had also orally remarked, ""We cannot curb the freedom of press... if it's a question of larger reporting then PCI has to be made party."
This petition is now expected to be taken up next week.