The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that digital media was “spreading venomous hatred” and was involved in the deliberate instigation of violence and terrorism, Live Law reported.
However, the government said it was not necessary to issue guidelines to regulate electronic and print media, suggesting that the court leave that to Parliament to decide. The government highlighted that the “self-regulatory mechanism” for redressal of complaints against electronic broadcast channels are, by and large, “effective and ensures impartiality”. Thus, it is not desirable to “widen the scope of present petition by laying down any wider guidelines of general application” it said.
The submissions were made in a counter affidavit the government filed in the ongoing case against Sudarshan TV for telecasting its controversial Bindas Bol show, which claims to have unearthed “a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil service by Muslims”.
The Centre said that if the court considers it necessary to lay down guidelines for the mainstream electronic and print media – which, it said was not required – then it should first introduce measures to regulate web-based digital media.
“There is absolutely no check on the web-based digital media,” the Centre stated. “Apart from spreading venomous hatred, deliberate and intended instigation to not only cause violence but even terrorism it is also capable of indulging in tarnishing the image of individuals and institutions. The said practice is, in fact, rampant.”
“It is, therefore, in the interest of justice and appropriate that either this Hon’ble Court may leave wider issues to be considered and decidedly the Central Government and the competent legislature or starts with the exercise with an examination of the very same issues in the context of digital media,” the affidavit stated.
Petitioner in Sudarshan News case files rejoinder affidavit
Advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan, who moved the Supreme Court against Sudarshan News’ Bindas Bol show, told the top court on Monday that the case cannot be treated as a private litigation as it could have wide grave ramifications on the public. The court is due to take up the matter later in the day.
In a rejoinder affidavit, Khan asserted that the impugned show was a “deliberate and malicious” attempt at communalising the atmosphere and “stroking the fires of communalism”. The affidavit cited the Constitutional morality and ethos and said the effect of the broadcast was “very wide and of grave national interest”, which could dent the “vibrant and unique secular fabric and cultural diversity of our country”.
On September 16, the Supreme Court had restrained Sudarshan News from airing future episodes of its Bindas Bol show. The top court held that the four episodes telecast by the channel from September 11 to 14 have only indulged in vilification of Muslims and called its content “rabid” and “insidious”. The channel’s Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke then submitted a 91-page affidavit, arguing that the show was a piece of investigative journalism and said that Sudarshan News had no problem with any individual from any community joining the civil services on merit.
When the Supreme Court asked Sudarshan News why it gave the title “UPSC Jihad”, the channel claimed it did because the Zakat Foundation – a non-governmental organisation that coaches community members – had received funds from an anti-India, organisation based in the United Kingdom.
However, in his rejoinder affidavit, Khan argued that the show deliberately misrepresented itself as an exposé on the role of the Zakat Foundation of India in training aspiring civil servants. He said the tone, tenor and contents of the show “go far beyond this”, and seek to represent Muslims as being part of a grand conspiracy to “capture” the civil services.
The affidavit added that the show contained a pictorial representation of a Muslim with a beard, skull cap, with “flames and blasts in the background” to reinforce the message that Muslims are terrorists. “This undermines the status and rights of Muslims as equal citizens in a democracy with the right as all others to have a place at every tier of public and government life,” it said.
Besides this, Khan said the show’s title, “UPSC Jihad”, by itself was enough to reflect the “antagonistic mind set against a particular community” and was nothing but a “prime example of virulent Islamophobia”.
Khan added that the channel was not initiating any discussion or debate, but was openly engaging in hate speech and a misinformation campaign to vilify Muslims.
The rejoinder goes on to state that the top court’s suggestion to allow the remaining episodes to be telecast after filtering out any objectionable content would not undo the the blatant violation of the Program Code by Sudarshan News, according to Bar and Bench.