The Supreme Court today directed Sudarshan TV to defer the broadcast of its program touted as a ”big expose on the conspiracy” regarding Muslims “infiltrating government service”, until further orders as reported by bar and bench.
The Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph took up the matter for hearing today after earlier refusing to impose a pre-broadcast ban on the controversial program.
The Court also called for the setting up of a committee of five citizens who can come up with standards for electronic media. It said,
“We don’t want any persons of politically divisive nature and we need members who are of commendable stature.”
Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Advocate Anoop George Chaudhari informed the Court that there were only 292 Muslims in the services at present. He said,
“If you read the transcript you will see that they say Muslims are infiltrating the civil services. They say how Muslim OBCs are eating the share of other OBCs.The show has graphs they have used words like “ha***** gaddar” in the show. Very unfortunate words.”
Justice Chandrachud also noted that the petition prays for guidelines on how media show report some issues. Justice Joseph made an important observation that the ownership of media channels must be disclosed.
“We need to look at the ownership of the visual media. Entire shareholding pattern of the company must be on site for public. Revenue model of that company should also be put up to check if government is putting more ads in one and less in another.”
Justice Joseph also commented on the manner in which debates are conducted on news channels.
On the topic of the Sudarshan TV broadcast itself, Justice Chandrachud observed,
“The anchor’s grievance is that a particular group is gaining entry into civil services. How insidious is this? Such insidious charges also put a question mark on the UPSC exams. Aspersions have been cast on UPSC. Such allegations are without any factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programs be allowed in a free society?”
“Shouldn’t there be enforceable standards that the media profess itself to so that Article 19(1)(a) is upheld?”
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in his response stated that- “Freedom of the journalist is supreme. It would be disastrous for any democracy to control the press.
Justice Joseph replied- “When we talk about journalistic freedom, it is not absolute. He shares the same freedom as other citizens. There is no separate freedom for journalists like in the US. We need journalists who are fair in their debates.”
Justice Chandrachud slammed Sudarshan TV advocate Shyam Diwan saying-
“Your client is doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India is a melting point of diverse culture. Your client needs to exercise his freedom with caution.”
Justice Chandrachud also went ahead to blast the advocate from News Broadcasters Association for giving a blind eye to such kind of media slander
“We need to ask you if you exist apart from the letterhead. What do you do when a parallel criminal investigation goes on in the media and reputation is tarnished?”
Counsel for the intervenors made their arguments, after which Farasat sought to share his screen to show the Bench clips of the programme titled ‘Bindaas Bol’.
After watching the clip, the Court directed Sudarshan TV to defer the broadcast of its remaining episodes till September 17, when the matter will be heard next.
Chandrachud J – “We are concerned that when you say students who are part of Jamia Millia Islamia are part of a group to infiltrate civil services…we can’t tolerate.”
“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.”
Justice Joseph pointed out that Rule 6 of the Programme Code notes that cable TV programs cannot show anything that targets a particular religion or a community.
In the final Submission Advocate, Gautam Bhatia stated- “Our main point in the IA is that there needs to be a certain standard to judge hate speech. Here, in this case, a community is being vilified. To that extent that they are not being able to respond. In this case, the pre-telecast restraint parameter is different.”
After hearing the parties, the Court noted in its order,
“Situation from pre-broadcast ban stage has changed. Petitioners submit that fake news have been shown in the program and screenshots from the program and transcripts have been shown to state that program states its a conspiracy to infiltrate civil service… It has been argued that program has become a focal point of hate speech in the country…
…it appears to the court that object of the program is to vilify the Muslim community and make it responsible for an insidious attempt to infiltrate the civil services. We are duty bound to ensure adherence to the Programme Code formed under Cable TV Act…
…edifice of a stable democratic society and observance of constitutional rights and duties is based on co-existence of communities. Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with disfavour. We are of the view that there is a change in circumstances…
..episodes broadcasted till now show nature and objective of the program. Pending further orders of the Court, Sudarshan News stands injuncted from making any more broadcasts on this subject on any other name too.”
The promo of the show shared by the channel’s Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke, with hashtag ‘UPSC Jihad’, had garnered criticism from several quarters.
A group of former civil servants under the collective “Constitutional Conduct” have filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court, seeking a ruling on the scope of “hate speech”. Before this, they had written to various government bodies seeking action against Sudharshan TV’s “UPSC Jihad” show.