The Supreme Court on Friday told Sudarshan News that it cannot “brand” every member of the Muslim community and alienate them with divisive agenda, with its show on their “infiltration” in the civil services, Bar and Bench reported. The court, however, said that it cannot serve as a censor.
The court made the remark while hearing petitions opposing the telecast of the controversial show.
The TV channel had on Thursday defended its communal show titled “Bindas Bol” in the top court, saying that it was a piece of investigative journalism. The channel had said that it was investigating an organisation named Zakat Foundation, which was supporting civil services aspirants but also had alleged links to terror groups. The Supreme Court had stayed the programme on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice DY Chandrachud, told the channel that it could continue its investigation but freedom of speech and press could not be allowed to turn into hatred. “If you want to investigate Zakat Foundation, then go ahead,” Chandrachud said. “Painting all candidates as carrying out an agenda shows the kind of hatred. This is the element of concern here, free speech becomes hatred. You can’t brand every member of the community. You alienate the good members too by divisive agenda.”
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The judge added that media houses cannot target a specific community. “Let a message go to media that a particular community cannot be targeted,” he said. “We have to look after a nation of the future which is cohesive and diverse. We recognise national security but we need to recognise individual respect too.”
Chandrachud asked the TV channel what it would do to address the court’s concerns. “We don’t want to come in the way of journalism,” he said. “We know as a court what happened during Emergency so we will ensure free speech and ideas. We cannot be censors and we will not lay down what to pull down and what not to.”
Justice KM Joseph, meanwhile, said that the TV programme showed “grave disrespect” to the Muslim community, NDTV reported. “What you are doing is that you are marginalising those who should be brought to mainstream,” he remarked. “By doing this, you will be driving them in the wrong hands. Where are we headed?”
Joseph added: “Apart from Muslims, there are Jains. My law clerk underwent the course funded by Jain organizations. Christian organizations fund their candidates. Everybody wants to be a part of the power centre. Here you are marginalising people from mainstream.”
The top court also lashed out at the National Broadcasters’ Association for not taking adequate steps to control hateful content. “They can impose a maximum fine of Rs 1 lakh and this shows how toothless you are,” Chandrachud said, according to Bar and Bench. “But the NBA is only for members, so Sudarshan News not being a member is not governed by NBA.”
The association, then, defended itself. “We also make channels apologise on prime time,” NBA’s lawyer said, according to NDTV. “We are not toothless. Several Supreme Court and High Court judgements commend our regulations.”
Sudarshan News’ lawyer Shyam Divan told the court that he will file an affidavit in the case by the end of this week. The court will next hear the case on Monday.