Web portals "only listen to powerful voices" and "write anything" against judges or institutions, the Supreme Court said in scathing remarks today while hearing a case against media reports on the Tablighi Jamaat gathering last year in Delhi that was blamed for a spike in Covid cases in the first few months of the pandemic. The court also noted that news shown in a section of the media had a communal tone, which, it said, could bring the country a bad name.
Naming YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the Supreme Court said, "Web portals have no accountability".
"The problem is, everything in this country is shown with a communal angle by a section of the media. That is the problem. The country is going to get a bad name ultimately," said Chief Justice NV Ramana, questioning the government about the regulatory mechanism for websites and TV channels.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, added: "Not only communal but also planted stories. These portals can even put fake news."
The Supreme Court is hearing a petition that requests action against media reports accused of "communal branding of Covid" linked to the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Markaz Nizamuddin in the capital.
The judges were sharply critical of reporting by websites.
"Web portals only listen to powerful voices and write anything against judges, institutions without any accountability. Web portal only worry about powerful men and not judges, institution or common people. That is our experience," the court said.
"Forget individuals. Web portals write very badly even against institutions," said the Chief Justice.
He said the portals had no accountability and "never respond to us".
The Supreme Court expressed serious concern over fake news on social media platforms and websites.
The judges commented that there is no control over fake news and slander in portals and YouTube channels. "If you go to YouTube, you will find how fake news is freely circulated and anyone can start a channel on YouTube," they said.
"I have never come across web portals taking any action," said Justice Ramana.
"At least the NBSA (National Broadcasting Standards Authority) are responding to responsible people. Respond to us."
The Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind has asked the court to direct the Centre to stop dissemination of "fake news" related to the gathering at the Markaz Nizamuddin and take strict action against those responsible for it.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear after six weeks the Centre's plea seeking the transfer of petitions from various High Courts on new IT rules meant to regulate online content.