Freedom of speech and expression is the “most abused right” in recent times, the Supreme Court on Thursday said while hearing pleas of Jamiat-Ulama-I-Hind and others alleging that a section of media was spreading communal hatred over the Tablighi Jamaat congregation during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde also took strong exception to the affidavit filed by the central government in response to the petition and stated that it has been filed by a junior officer and also does not address any specific instances of bad reporting raised by the petitioner.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Jamaat, said the Centre in its affidavit has stated that petitioners are trying to muzzle freedom of speech and expression.
To this, the bench said, “They are free to make any averment in their affidavit like you are free to make any argument you want”.
The bench was irked over the fact that instead of secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, an additional secretary filed the affidavit which contained “unnecessary” and “nonsensical” averments with regard to media reporting in the Tablighi Jamaat issue.
“You cannot treat this court the way you are doing in this case,” said the bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
The apex court sought an affidavit from the I&B secretary with details of steps taken in the past to stop motivated media reporting in such cases.