The Supreme Court on Thursday, while hearing pleas alleging discriminatory coverage by a section of the media and spreading communal hatred over the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi, said that freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedom in recent times.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde said everyone is entitled to say what they feel and believe.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for petitioners, including Jamiat Ulema I Hind and Peace Party, submitted that the Central government's affidavit accused them of trying to muzzle the freedom of speech by targeting the media.
To this, the Chief Justice observed, "We must also tell you that freedom of speech is the most abused freedom in recent times."
The bench also slammed the Centre for having a junior officer file an "evasive" affidavit full of "unnecessary and nonsensical" averments on pleas alleging vilification of Muslims by a section of media through their coverage on the Tablighi Jamaat issue.
Chief Justice took strong objection to the "evasive" response to Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind and Peace Party complaining against the Centre for not taking any steps to stop "motivated TV broadcasts" targeting the Muslim community over the congregation.
CJI Bobde said the department's secretary must file an affidavit on record and he must point out what he says regarding these incidents.
The court was hearing pleas filed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Peace Party seeking action against media reports indulging in communal branding of the COVID-19 pandemic in the light of Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi's Nizamuddin area.
The top court asked the Centre to file a fresh affidavit through the Secretary-level officer of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting detailing steps it had taken to stop broadcasts in TV channels, which are targeting the Muslim community after the Tablighi Jamaat incident.
The bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, "We must tell you Mr Mehta, you cannot treat the court the way you are treating it in this case. You have filed an affidavit by a junior officer. We find it extremely evasive and it mentions nothing about bad reporting. How can you say there's no incident?"
"You have the Secretary of this Department to file an affidavit without making such nonsensical averments like the petitioners haven't shown any instance of mad media reporting," the CJI said. Mehta then said that the government will file a fresh affidavit through its Secretary.
During the hearing, the bench also said, "We want to know, does the government have any powers to ban or question the TV broadcast signals?"