A petition filed in Madras High Court seeks directions to the Centre and State Government to stop the communalization of COVID-19 virus and to take strict action to ensure that the media maintains a sense of responsibility and does not publish unverified news during these sensitive times.
Filed by the State General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party of India (SPDI), Umar Farook, the petition claims that the incident involving 2000 'Tablighi Jamaat' members being stranded at 'Markaz Nizamuddin' in Delhi was reported by the media with "communal flavor". The reportage of the "unfortunate incident" was a way to demonize and place blame on the entire Muslim community, alleges the petitioner.
"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".
Further, referring to "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", it has been alleged that reports were forged and fake news was peddled across social media to show one community in bad light.
Farook emphasizes that such demonization is an infringement of the Right to live with dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, while communally coloured reporting violates section 19 of the Cable Television Netwroks (Regulation ) Act, 1995.
It is further submitted that the Centre and the government of Tamil Nadu are supervising and monitory authorities of the Media. The reporting promotes feelings of enmity, hatred and ill-will towards the Muslim community, and therefore the Centre and State ought to have taken action. By failing in prohibiting the transmission of such news, and not taking action against these news organizations, they failed in their constitutional duty to maintain the communal harmony in such a critically sensitive time.
The petitioner goes on to refer to the Supreme Court order from March 31, 2020 wherein the media was directed to ensure that no unverified report or information, capable of causing panic, is disseminated. The Apex Court had further directed the media to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and suggested the publication of only official COVID-19 updates made available by the Centre. Seeking strict adherence to this order, Farook contests that the current reportage "is likely to trigger communal antagonism and hatred resulting in fissiparous tendencies gaining foothold, undermining and affecting communal harmony".
Additionally, the petitioner has voiced concern over the attitude of the police in trying to control this situation. It is claimed that very few FIRs have been registered despite over 200 complaints being lodged in several districts, and those which have been lodged are "for name sake and eye wash."
As an interim plea, it has been prayed that the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu, be ordered to issue suitable directions to all Police Stations to register FIRs based on complaints received by them and ensure that the spreading of fake news and communal hatred attracts charges of a cognizable offence.
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