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We cannot curb Freedom of Press, make Press Council of India a party: SC on Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind plea against communalization of Markaz Issue

Debayan Roy

The Supreme Court today refused to hear the petition filed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind against communalization of the Nizamuddin Markaz issue, unless the Press Council of India (PCI) was made a party to the case.

Advocate-on-Record Ejaz Maqbool urged the Court that there was violence due to the constant news reporting around the Tablighi Jamaat members.

However, the Bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde maintained in the hearing conducted through video conferencing,

"We cannot curb the freedom of press."

Maqbool persisted with the Court that in Karnataka, there have been incidents of violence owing to the reportage, and that names of people have been made public.

In response, CJI Bobde stated that if it was a question of killing, defamation "then your remedy is somewhere else," but "if it's a question of larger reporting then PCI has to be made party."

The case is now likely to be heard next week.

The Bench led by CJI SA Bobde was hearing a plea by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which had claimed that the media has communalised the Nizamuddin Markaz event, where about 2,500 individuals congregated in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The plea filed by Advocate Ejaz Maqbool states that reports on the Tablighi Jamaat by certain sections of print and electronic media has "demonised the entire Muslim community."

The plea further states that this demonization of the community has led to serious "threat to life and liberty of Muslims", and has thus led to the violation of their "Right to life under Article 21."

The petition says that most of the reports presented the facts in a twisted manner, using phrases like "Corona Jihad", "Corona Terrorism" or "Islamic Resurrection".

The petitioner organisation contends that if there is any delay in ordering a directive to stop communal reporting regarding the Markaz issue, it would only “promote ill-will, enmity and hatred towards the Muslim community in India.”

Media on Markaz: Corona Jihad etc
Media on Markaz: Corona Jihad etc

The petition has listed “several social media posts” which “wrongly showed Muslims doing deliberate acts to spread COVID-19.” The plea has also given links to fact check reports that have gone on to prove that such reports were malicious and “were old unrelated videos.”

Further, the plea noted that while such reports demonising the Muslim community have flooded social media, platforms like Twitter have taken no action in accordance with their standard practice and guidelines.

One of the fake social media posts highlighted in the plea was a mass Muslim religious gathering where an act of “mass sneezing” was reported. However, the petition has given links to fact check reports highlighting how it was a Sufi practice which was falsely reported as an effort to spread the Coronavirus pandemic.

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