The Central government on Tuesday sought a direction from the Supreme Court that no media outlet print, publish or telecast anything on coronavirus without first ascertaining facts from the mechanism provided by the government.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made the plea while submitting a status report on the welfare measures taken the government for migrant workers.
Opposition leaders and rights activists had criticised the government for announcing the lockdown without measures in place to aid daily wage workers and migrants labourers whose livelihood was hit because of the national lockdown.
As a result major cities including Delhi saw an exodus of migrants attempting to travel back to their home state despite sealed borders and restrictions on people’s movement. Migrants who stayed were running out of food and savings, Scroll reported.
In the report submitted to the SC, the government 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.
The government said though creating panic is a criminal offence, 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.
Supreme Court Chief Justice SA Bobde later issued an order, saying the court did not intend to interfere with free discussion, but directed the media to refer to and publish the “official version” of the developments on the coronavirus outbreak.
“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,” the court directed.
The Division Bench of CJI Bobde and Justice L Nageswara Rao observed, “The migration of large number of labourers working in the cities was triggered by panic created by fake news that the lock down would continue for more than three months. Such panic driven migration has caused untold suffering to those who believed and acted on such news. 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,” Bar&Bench quoted.
The Caravan’s Sagar Chowdhury reported that hours before announcing the lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a video-conference with over 20 mainstream print media owners and editors during which he asked them refrain from negative coronavirus coverage. The report says Modi suggested they publish “positive stories”, avoiding “negativity”.