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Supreme Court upholds “Right to discuss COVID-19”

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Right to Discuss, Art. 19

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and its mitigation

The Supreme Court has upheld the right to free discussion about COVID-19, even as it directed the media to refer to and publish the official version of the developments in order to avoid inaccuracies and large-scale panic.

Right to Discuss

  • The Right to Discuss falls under the purview of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • It ensures all citizens the liberty of thought and expression.
  • The exercise of this right is, however, subject to “reasonable restrictions” for certain purposes being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.
  • These restrictions are imposed in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Why such a move?

  • The court was responding to a request from the Central government that media outlets, in the “larger interest of justice”, should only publish or telecast anything on COVID-19 after ascertaining the factual position from the government.
  • Any deliberate or inaccurate reporting by the media, particularly web portals, had the serious and inevitable potential of causing panic in a larger section of the society.
  • Any panic reaction in the midst of an unprecedented situation based on such reporting would harm the entire nation.
  • Creating panic is also a criminal offence under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
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