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Madhya Pradesh High Court dismisses PIL seeking specific COVID-19 guidelines for electronic media

The petitioner approached the High Court against the inaction of the respondents as they have failed to make proper Covid Specific guidelines for electronic media, TV channels, TV news channels, TV journalists/reporters, and sports broadcast. They have failed to implement the existing guidelines issued by UNICEF and the Press Council of India in this behalf.

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The Madhya Pradesh High Court has disposed a Public Interest Litigation seeking specific COVID-19 guidelines for electronic media.

The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Vijay Kumar Shukla heard a Public Interest Litigation on Monday, filed by Advocate Samyant Jain, who during the course of arguments, submitted that though various vaccines have been developed, but the most effective weapon/shield that prevents the spread of Novel Coronavirus is by use of mask and maintaining physical distance.

The Government authorities and the International Organisations from time to time have issued various guidelines in this regard.

The petitioner submitted that TV programmes, reality shows abd news channels influence the public at large, which subsequently shape the society and its behaviour in daily life, activities and lifestyle.

The plea made a reference to the observations of the Supreme Court in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting vs Cricket Association of Bengal & another.

It is contended that television serves as a pathway that connects society to the world of glamour, fashion, trends, and information. The performing elements such as news anchors, celebrities, models, players, etc influence society by their thoughts, words, personality, and performances. Whatever is done by these performing elements becomes a trend, which is followed by society.

The petitioner approached the High Court against the inaction of the respondents as they have failed to make proper Covid Specific guidelines for electronic media, TV channels, TV news channels, TV journalists/reporters, and sports broadcast. They have failed to implement the existing guidelines issued by UNICEF and the Press Council of India on this behalf.

It is further contended that the Press Council of India has adopted norms for Journalistic Conduct 2020 in its general meeting, which provides “Guidelines on reporting of COVID-19 and Safety Measures for Journalists”. However, as regards electronic media and TV news channels, there are no such Covid specific guidelines issued by the authority or stakeholders of the news channels and electronic media broadcasters.

The petitioner has cited the April 4, 2021 order issued by Government of Maharashtra detailing out the guidelines and protocols for shooting of films, serials and advertisements.

Sub-clause (g) of Section 7 “Recreation and Entertainment” of the said order provides that generally shooting of scenes with large number of artists to be avoided. All staff engaged as well as artists should carry negative RTPCR test certificate valid for 15 days. In case a Quarantine Bubble may be created for the artists and staff engaged, they may be allowed by concerned disaster management authority with any number, provided before entry into the bubble, negative RTPCR test has been conducted on each one. It is further contended that similar to the guidelines issued by the Government of Maharashtra, the BCCI has provided even more strict, elaborated and concrete guidelines and protocol for conducting Vivo IPL 2021.

The Counsel for the Petitioner alleged that by omitting to wear mask and not following physical distance ON SCREEN, the actors and performers/players etc. of the programmes/shows are indirectly promoting the notion of not wearing mask and not following physical distance. As the viewers are not aware that the performing actors/players are under special care and protection of medical professionals and reside under the shield of bio bubble, they intend to develop a myth that it is not important to follow all these guidelines of physical distancing and use of mask, which endangers the life of public at large. Reference is made to an incident in which some players of Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders tested Covid positive, as per news dated 05.05.2021. Similarly, 2 contestants of music reality show ‘Indian Idol’, broadcast on Sony Entertainment TV Channel, and 18 Crew members of dance reality show ‘Dance Deewane Season 3’, tested Covid positive.

Petitioner has placed on record a voluminous documents including screen-shots of TV show telecast and copies of the US Today report and Indian Express News report alogwith certificate under Section 65-B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 to substantiate his arguments. It is contended that the direction prayed for if issued to the respondents, would benefit the citizens of this country generally, as rule of safety guidelines for journalists and its mandatory implication would protect journalists as well as prevent spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Statutory or health warnings/disclaimer/ information at the beginning, middle and end of TV shows/programs/telecast, informing people about the safety measures, protocols being followed while recording, making, organizing, conducting and also informing that even bio bubbles are not 100% effective, alongwith proper advice to use mask and maintain physical distance is essential for the safety, health and awareness of citizens amidst the spread of Coronavirus. Under Article 47 of Part-IV of the Constitution of India it is the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health, which can be achieved by implementing effective guidelines/directions over all these televisions channels, the Petitioner added.

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In light of those facts the Petitioner has prayed to issue direction that guidelines be made for all the TV Channels and Makers/produces/owner/broadcasters of all reality shows, serials, series, sports, telecasts, award shows etc, to display a warning, caution, disclaimer/declaration whatsoever, at the beignning, middle and end of the show/telecast/broadcast, declaring that all the performers of this program/show/sports/game etc. are performing under proper care and observation of medical professionals, are following special safety measures, residing and performing under bio bubble, also informing that BIO BUBBLe is not 100% effective, to make Covid specific guidelines, for electronic media, TV news channels, anchors and journalists, to be followed while performing their duties, reporting, taking interview of public or politicians, etc. and for mandating journalists of news papers and print media to strictly follow the “Norms of Journalistic Conduct 2020” issued by Press Council of India and adhere to the guidelines, maintain physical distance between them as well as among the public, wear mask, gloves and PPE Kit (Personal Protection Equipment Kit) while taking interviews of interacting with public.

The Court is of the considered view that the Petitioner has raised quite significant issues of relevance in the present context, which ought to engage attention of the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, Government of India.

“We, therefore, deem it appropriate to dispose of this writ petition by requiring the petitioner to file a comprehensive representation, alongwith all material which he has placed before this Court in the present writ petition, before the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcast, Government of India, who may examine the matter and do the needful by deciding the same expeditiously in accordance with law by communicating the outcome thereof to the Petitioner”, the order read.

Source: ILNS

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