Centre Seeks SC Direction That No Media Should Publish COVID-19 News Without First Ascertaining Facts With Govt
The Central Government has sought a direction from the Supreme Court that no media outlet should print, publish or telecast anything on COVID-19 without first ascertaining facts from the mechanism provided by the government.
This prayer was made by the Centre in its status report filed in the SC in response to the PILs seeking directions for welfare of migrant workers, and measures to control the pandemic transmission.
The status report filed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla IAS said that “in an unprecedented situation of this nature, any deliberate or unintended fake or inaccurate reporting either in electronic, print, social media or web portals has a serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in large sections of the society”.
“Considering the very nature of the infectious disease which the world is struggling to deal with, any panic reaction by any section of the society based upon such reporting would not only be harmful for such situation but would harm the entire nation.
It is, therefore, in the largest interest of justice that when this court has taken cognizance, this court is pleased to issue a direction that no electronic/print media/ web portal or social media shall print/ publish or telecast anything without first ascertaining the true factual position from the separate mechanism provided by the Central government,” read the affidavit.
Though creation of panic is an offence under the Disaster Management Act 2005, the Centre said that an “appropriate direction from the top court would “protect the country from any potential and inevitable consequence resulting from a false alarm having the potential of creating panic in a section of the society”.
The Centre also apprised the Court of the measures it has taken to control the transmission of the pandemic.
“The Central government initiated the timely actions and geared up all its Ministries much more before WHO declared Covid-19 to be a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern”, it told the Court.
“Very few countries of the world responded as timely the way India responded as a result of which the spread of Covid-19 is capable of being contained in our country so far”, it said.
After an announcement on January 7 by China about the Novel Coronavirus, the Union Health Secretary in India addressed all State Health Secretaries to examine and take necessary actions for adequate hospital preparedness to meet potential emergencies.
“This was much in advance and without wasting even a single day after announcement made by China”, the Centre said.
The Centre said that testing capacity for COVID-19 has been increased on a “war footing”. About 118 labs are operational at present with an ability to conduct 15,000 tests per day. The Centre told that it has coordinated with 47 private laboratory chains with more than 20,000 collection centres.
The Home Minister is personally supervising the situation, the Centre said.
“It is submitted that Ministry of Home Affairs has also taken many immediate, timely, effective and proactive actions almost on daily basis. The Home Minister is personally supervising the implementation of various directives/ advisories issued by the the home ministry along with the cabinet secretary and the home secretary and senior officers in the control room which is operational for 24 hours”, the affidavit stated
On the issue of migrant workers, it said :
“As per the details received by the Control room…21,064, relief camps have already been set up by state governments and Union Territories as per the directions of the Central government in which they are providing food, shelter and medical facilities as per the requirement of migrant workers. Around 6,66,291 persons have been provided shelter; 22,88,279 persons have been provided food,”
Adequate measures have been taken to ensure that the disease is not spread to rural areas, it said.
“It is most important and crucial to point out at this juncture that this kind of migration by the migrant workers on their own in large numbers, defeats the very object of the preventive measures taken by the Central government,” the affidavit said.
The Centre said that the 21-day lockdown was announced after “detailed and careful deliberations with Expert Groups”.
“It was a necessity for taking an emergent measure even at the cost of some inconvenience in the larger public interest and to ensure that spread or potential spread of this global disease is immediately arrested/contained”, the Centre said
After the hearing on Tuesday, the bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde passed an order observing that panic created by fake news triggered the mass migration of labourers, and called for responsible media coverage.
“We do not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but direct the media refer to and publish the official version about the developments”, SC said.
The bench also passed a slew of directions including general directions for the welfare of inter-state workers