The Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained Sudarshan News from telecasting the remaining episodes of the channel’s show that claimed to unveil an alleged conspiracy behind how Muslims have infiltrated the civil services, reported Live Law. The court pointed out that the programme was “insidious” and was telecast with the intent and purpose of vilifying Muslims.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph was hearing a petition against the telecast of the “UPSC Jihad” show, hosted by the channel’s Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke, on the ground that it was communalising the presence of Muslims in the civil services.
“At this stage, prima facie, it appears to the court that the object, intent and purpose of the programme 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 said.
It added that Chavhanke was doing a “disservice to the nation” and is forgetting that India is a “melting point of diverse cultures and values”, NDTV reported. “Your client needs to exercise his freedom with caution,” the court told Chavhanke’s advocate Shyam Divan.
“There are factually incorrect statements made in the programme regarding the upper age and number of attempts for Muslims in UPSC exams,” the Supreme Court observed. “Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with great disfavour by this court which is a custodian of constitutional rights.”
The court said it will take up the matter again on September 17 and observed that it was thinking of forming a five-member committee of eminent people to put in place standards for the electronic media.
Though the top court had refused to pass a pre-broadcast injunction order against the show on August 28, it had issued notices to Union of India, Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association as well as Sudarshan News. It had further observed that the show’s “divisive potential” had been highlighted during the hearing. “The petition had thus raised significant issues bearing on the ‘protection of constitutional rights’,” it had noted.
Besides this, seven former bureaucrats have also intervened in the plea seeking an authoritative ruling, setting out the scope and meaning of “hate speech”.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Justice Chandrachud observed that the power of the electronic media to target a community, damage reputations or tarnish someone’s image was huge. “Reputations can be damaged; image can be tarnished... How to control this?” he asked.
“This programme was so insidious,” Chandrachud added. “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?”
The top court further observed that the problem with electronic media was that it is “all about TRPs”, leading to more sensationalism. “So many things masquerading as rights, that in essence tramples Article 19,” Joseph observed, referring to freedom of speech and expression.
Senior advocate Anoop Chaudhari, appearing for petitioner Firoz Iqbal Khan, said the show was “blatantly communal”. “It is so communal you cannot even imagine...They [the channel] say Muslims are infiltrating the UPSC, they bounce bomb graphics,” Chaudhari told the court. “They have interlinked an ex prime minister with terrorism. Expletives being used for him. All kinds of people and even youngsters watch this channel, what about the impression this can create in their minds?”
But advovcate Divan, who represented the channel’s editor-in-chief, argued that the programme was an “investigative report” concerned with national security. Additionally, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that regulating media would be very difficult and “disastrous for democracy”. He added that “rabid” things are often spoken from both ends. “I don’t want to get into the right and left wing of it,” he said. “ But the question is, can it be regulated?”
To this, Justice Joseph responded: “No freedom is absolute, not even journalistic freedom.” He stressed on the need for channels to have debates where “others should be allowed to speak” as against the anchor only.
Chandrachud added that journalists must be governed by certain principles. “This is a very difficult area of regulation undoubtedly, but we are trying to spread a wider auspice of dialogue,” he said. “Look at this programme, Solicitor, how [much more] rabid can it get? Targeting a community who are appearing for civil services.”