The Supreme Court has restrained Sudarshan News from further telecasting the rest of the episodes in its “UPSC Jihad” series while observing that the program was “insidious”. The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph was hearing a petition filed by Firoz Iqbal Khan against the communally inflammatory show seeking pre-telecast injunction against broadcast of the program.
On August 28, the apex court refused to issue an injunction on the basis of an “unverified transcript of a 49 second clip” which was the promotional video of the show titled “Bindaas Bol”. The court had still noted that expression of views derogatory to a particular community had a “divisive potential” and that the petition had raised significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights.
However, on the same day, Delhi High Court had granted stay on the broadcast of the show with directions to the Centre to make a decision in this regard. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an order on September 9 allowing the broadcast of the show and from September 11 onwards, the show called “Bindaas Bol” was telecast on Sudarshan News. The topic of the show was “Naukarshahi me Muslamano ki Ghuspaith ke shadyantra ka bada khulasa” (The conspiracy behind Muslim infiltration in UPSC – The Big Reveal).
An intervention application has also been filed by 7 retired civil servants urging the court to give an authoritative meaning to “hate speech” so that the authorities implementing it receive clarity on what speech comes within its ambit. “The interpretative task before this Hon’ble Court therefore is to distinguish between speech that is merely offensive, indecorous or in bad taste [and therefore covered by Article 19(1)(a)] and hate speech that is rightly penalised by Articles 153A & B and the other provisions pointed out above,” the plea read.
This “UPSC Jihad” series has been running since September 11 and was slated to continue until September 20. However, with the Supreme Court order restraining broadcast, September 14 happens to be the last telecast of the show.
CJP’s complaint against Sudarshan News
CJP was the first organisation to act when we filed a complaint with the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) when the promotional video for the show Bindass Bol had first emerged. CJP complained against the deeply communal content of the promotional video of the show on ‘UPSC Jihad’, where the channel’s Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke alleged a conspiracy by Muslims to take over civil services in India. But NBSA forwarded our complaint to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting stating that since Sudarshan News was not a part of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) the NBSA could not take action against it.
The court’s observations
Before arguments could begin, Justice Chadrachud commented, “An anathema on 19(1)(a) to impose censorship but at the same time human dignity has to be taken into account and some standards have to be imposed which in fact, go beyond this program”. Further, commenting on the reach of electronic media, Justice Chandrachud said, “Electronic media is as powerful as the print media because the access of electronic media is extraordinarily huge and broad and it can become a focal point for destabilising the nation by targeting particular communities.”
After going through the contents of the show, Justice Chandrachud commented, “This program was so insidious. Citizens from a particular community who go through the same examinations and get interviewed by the same panel. This also casts aspersions on the UPSC examination. How do we deal with these issues? Can this be tolerated?”
When the counsel for Sudarshan News objected to the restraining of further telecast of the show, Justice Chandrachud stated, “When you say students of Jamia are part of a conspiracy to infiltrate civil services, that is not permissible. You cannot target one community and brand them a particular manner… This is an insidious attempt to malign a community.”
“As a Supreme Court of the nation we cannot allow you to say that Muslims are infiltrating civil services. You cannot say that the journalist has absolute freedom doing this,” observed the court.
The Solicitor General’s comments
When the bench asked SG Tushar Mehta for his comments, he said, “It would be disastrous for any democracy to control the media. The right of a journalist cannot be taken away. Your Lordships have perhaps not had the chance to look at the rabid things being put forth both ways – not on the right wing, left wing of it, but the question is, can it be regulated?”
Expressing his views on how news channels on TV conduct their debates on their shows, Justice Joseph commented, “The media does not have a freedom of press unlike the American Constitution. I see many channels mute people when they’re giving their opinion and it goes against the Anchor’s views. This is so unfair… We need to have debates where others should be allowed to speak as against the anchor only”.
Justice Chandrachud, almost concurring with Justice Joseph said, “Fair comment and equivalent duty of the right to fair response. Journalists must be governed by certain principles.”
When Justice Joseph pointed out that the Program Code prohibits telecast of shows “promoting communal attitude”, SG responded saying, “there are statutory authorities to deal with the violations.” To this Justice Joseph retorted saying, ‘the damage will be irreversible’.
Justice Chandrachud even questioned SG, “After the Centre passed the order on September 9, the broadcast took place on 11,12, 13 and 14. Did anybody in the Ministry apply their mind on the broadcast which happened from 11 -14,” to which he responded that he shall seek instructions on the same.
LiveLaw reported that the court observed, “At this stage, prima facie, it appears to the court that the object, intent and purpose of the program is to vilify the Muslim community with an insidious attempt to portray them as part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services”.
The court further commented, “The edifice of a stable democracy society under a regime of constitutional rights and values is founded on co-existence of communities. India is a melting pot of civilizations, cultures and values”
“Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with great disfavour by this court which is a custodian of constitutional rights,” observed the court while ordering that Sudarshan News be restrained from telecasting the show in continuation of the shows already telecasted either under the same or a different caption.
LiveLaw reported that Justice Chandrachud, after dictating the order, orally remarked that the court was thinking to appoint a committee of five distinguished citizens who can come up with certain standards for the electronic media.
The court will next hear the case on September 17.
The complete order may be read here.
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