The Gauhati High Court on Thursday set aside Police Commissioner MP Gupta’s order to ban the telecast of Begum Jaan, an Assamese TV show aired on the regional entertainment channel Rengoni, Live Law reported.
On August 24, Gupta had issued an order to ban the series for two months based on complaints that the show’s content hurt religious sentiments and could potentially incite violence, an allegation that the channel has rejected.
A single bench of Justice Suman Shyam on Thursday observed that the impugned order was passed without hearing the affected parties in the case. The court made the observation on a petition filed by AM Private Television Limited, which runs the channel.
According to reports, the serial was allegedly banned for promoting “love jihad” . “The serial contains visuals or words contemptuous and defamatory of a particular religion and section of society,” Gupta’s order had said, adding that complaints were received from Hindu Jagran Manch, a body linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and other groups including the All Assam Brahmin Youth Council and the United Trust of Assam.
During the hearing on Thursday, advocate S Sarma, appearing for the production house, contended that the police commissioner could not pass the order based on recommendations of a district monitoring committee. Sarma added that the committee did not include a representative from the channel. “As per the latest guidelines of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued in 2017, a representative from the electronic media should be included in the Monitoring Committee,” he said.
The state government argued that even if the constitution of the committee was illegal, it did not have any consequence on the order, as Gupta was “independently competent to pass it”. However, the High Court rejected the contention and said that it was evident the petitioner was not given an opportunity of a hearing in the case.
“The complaints were evidently addressed to the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and therefore, a duly constituted monitoring committee was required to apply its mind on the merit of the complaints before making any recommendation in the matter, which has apparently not been done in this case,” the court noted. “Also, the impugned order did not record any reason.”
The High Court added that the ban on the TV series was imposed without following the procedure laid down under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1994. It further noted that the ban was unsustainable in the eye of law not only on the ground of violating the procedure but also “for violating the principles of natural justice and for non-application of mind”.
The bench then set aside Gupta’s order and gave time to the competent authority to decide the matter afresh, after hearing the petitioner in the case. Till then, the court said that AM Private Television will be “at the liberty to telecast the serial”.
However, the High Court added that the telecast of Begum Jaan should be subject to the condition that the managing director of the channel should personally ensure that “any content of the Serial which is deemed to be universally objectionable on the ground of violation of communal harmony or which may contain anything that may harm the religious sentiment of any community, is deleted, before making the telecast”.