The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court Bench ruling in the case of Sudarshan News, the television channel which came under the radar for its ‘UPSC Jihad’ show, asking it to regulate digital media instead of electronic media.
Sudarshan News and Hindutva Propaganda
The editor-in-chief of the channel, Suresh Chavhanke, who has strong ties with the BJP-RSS, had released a trailer, in which he called those passing out of Jamia’s Residential Coaching Academy (RCA) and clearing the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) as “Jamia ke Jihadi”, saying that Muslims in the civil services are mere “infiltrators”.
The channel and this show, known as Bindass Bol, received widespread opposition, including especially from teachers, students, and alumni from Jamia Millia Islamia University, and former members of the civil services.
Initially, the Delhi High Court issued a stay order on the broadcast of the show after a petition filed by students of Jamia. At the time, the Supreme Court bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and K M Joseph had refused to impose a pre-broadcast ban on the show but noted that the petition highlighted that the expression of views derogatory to a particular community had a divisive potential and had raised significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights.
Supreme Court Restrains Broadcast of the Show
On September 15, the Supreme Court bench directed Sudarshan News to defer the broadcast of its program until further orders, citing Rule 6 of the Programme Code under the Cable TV Act which notes that cable TV programs cannot show anything that targets a particular religion or community.
Slamming Suresh Chavhanke, Justice Chandrachud said that he is “doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India as a melting point of diverse culture” and rejected the argument that this was a matter of journalistic freedom, warning him instead to exercise his freedom with caution.
The Supreme Court bench also called for the setting up of a committee of five citizens, including people of commendable stature without having any politically divisive orientation, who can come up with standards for electronic media.
“Regulate Digital Media Instead”: Why the Deflection?
In response to this, the Centre pointed to digital media instead. According to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s affidavit, digital media has a faster reach and wider readership, with digital media content having the potential of going viral.
That the Centre has brought this up in response to the case of a TV show propagating extremely Islamophobic rhetoric while not taking any measures when say, Facebook was implicated in the spread of hate speech that led to riots in Delhi, shows that this affidavit is nothing but an attempt to deflect from the issue at hand.
The Supreme Court had identified an important part of the issue of propaganda on electronic media, observing that the ownership of the visual media needs to be looked into. Justice Joseph said, that the “entire shareholding pattern of the company must be on site for the public. The revenue model of that company should also be put up to check if the government is putting more ads in one and less in another.” Sudarshan News itself, for instance, had been sponsored by the Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adityanath.
Why is the government trying to deflect from television media? Recently, through propaganda and hate campaigns, the BJP-RSS has been using television channels to create a captive audience that can be fed distractions that will keep them from questioning the government. Extremely biased channels like Republic TV broadcast hours upon hours of coverage on issues like the Sushant-Rhea case or Kangana Ranaut and so on, ensuring that people don’t receive news about issues like rising unemployment or the economic crisis.
According to the latest report by BARC India and Nielsen, TV consumption has especially had a huge rise during lockdown. What was already a massive reach of television media at 560 people daily, has now risen to 627 million people per day. In a week in April, Indians spent 1.27 trillion minutes, the highest ever in a week, watching TV.
Due to the nature of television channels’ ownership and advertisement structures, it is much easier for the BJP-RSS to build a complete hegemony over what is shown on TV, and is broadcast to millions of people every day. Progressive groups, individual dissenters, or marginalized communities do not have the funds to buy advertisements on such channels and their views are almost completely absent from television media. On the other hand, digital media, even with all of its shortcomings, is still more democratic compared to television.
Dissent and Hate on Digital Media
Expressions of dissent have the potential to be distributed and communicated more freely over digital media, as has been the case in recent mobilisations, be it during the anti-CAA-NRC movement, the widespread anti-Modi sentiment that has expressed itself in the celebration of ‘National Unemployment Day’ on Modi’s birthday itself, or the thousands of dislikes on Modi’s videos on youtube. Independent media platforms which are not stifled by television and newspaper funding structures find themselves thriving on digital media, with multiple anti-caste and progressive news portals commanding thousands of viewers and readers.
It is true that digital media also needs to be regulated, with the monopoly of organizations like Facebook with its documented ties with fascist parties all over the world, the dominance of the BJP IT cell, the trolling and hate speech especially directed against Dalit women, Adivasi women, and Muslim women, the circulation of violent visuals and incitement of violence including that of lynch mobs and rape, and so on. But it is the BJP-RSS’s own use of digital media that would come into question here, whose outfits have even supported people like Shambhulal Regar, who hacked a Muslim man to death in Raj Samand and posted a video of it on Whatsapp that went viral.
This affidavit and the Centre’s request for the regulation of digital media then, is simply an attempt at escaping accountability for the core problem here that is RSS control over all media, be it print, or electronic, or digital, through their funding of and collusion with media companies.