New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its satisfaction with the measures taken by the Centre to contain the spread of coronavirus but expressed serious concern over the circulation of fake news across various news platforms – electronic, print or social media — which triggered an exodus of migrant workers from the cities.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao said: “The migration of a large number of labourers working in the cities was triggered by panic created by fake news that the lockdown would continue for more than three months. Such panic-driven migration has caused untold suffering to those who believed and acted on such news”.
The top court noted that in fact, some have lost their lives in the process. “It is therefore not possible for us to overlook this menace of fake news either by electronic, print or social media,” it added.
The bench also expressed satisfaction with the steps taken by the Centre for preventing the spread of coronavirus at this stage. t observed that media (print, electronic or social) must maintain a strong sense of responsibility and ensure that unverified news capable of causing panic is not disseminated. “A daily bulletin by the Government of India through all media avenues including social media and forums to clear the doubts of people would be made active within a period of 24 hours as submitted by the Solicitor General of India,” it said.
The bench also insisted that it does not intend to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, but directs the media to refer to and publish the official version about the developments. “Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides for punishment to a person who makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic. Such person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine,” added the court.
The Centre also told the apex court that circulation of fake news is a big issue and not lack of beds, medical equipment and testing facilities, in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. It sought direction from the top court to all media to refrain any news creating panic.
“Deliberate and inadvertent circulation of fake news and/or material capable of causing serious panic in the minds of the general public is found to be the single most unmanageable hindrance in the management of the challenge posed by coronavirus,” it said.
The Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, sought direction from the top court no electronic/print media/web portal or social media shall print/publish/telecast anything without ascertaining factual position from the dedicated mechanism installed by the government.
Mehta contended that within 24 hours, the Centre will ensure that trained counsellors and/or community group leaders belonging to all faiths will visit the relief camps/shelter homes and deal with any consternation that the migrants might be going through.
To this, the court said: “This shall be done in all the relief camps/shelter homes wherever they are located in the country. The anxiety and fear of the migrants should be understood by the police and other authorities. As directed by the Union of India, they should deal with the migrants in a humane manner.”