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SC halts broadcast of ‘insidious’ show

September 16, 2020 07:13 AM

courtesy  HT SEPT 16

SC halts broadcast of ‘insidious’ show
Supreme Court issues injunction barring Sudarshan News show that appears to ‘vilify the Muslim community’

Murali Krishnan


new delhi : A television programme relating to the civil services exams gives an impression that it is being aired with the objective of vilifying the Muslim community and bringing it into disrepute, the Supreme Court observed on Tuesday, issuing an injunction barring the channel Sudarshan News from televising the programme for the time being.

A three-judge bench headed by justice DY Chandrachud took strong exception to the contents of the show, Bindas Bol, which spoke of “UPSC jihad”, observing that the claims made by the channel appeared to be “insidious” and also cast aspersions on the credibility of the Union Public Service Commission exams.

“Prima facie (at first sight), it does appear to the Court that the intent, object and purpose of the episodes which have been telecast is to vilify the Muslim community. An insidious attempt has been made to insinuate that the community is involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services. The drift, tenor and content of the episodes is to bring the community into public hatred and disrepute…Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with disfavour by this court as a custodian of Constitutional values,” said the bench, which also comprised justices Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph.

The court reconsidered its stance of August 28 when it had declined to impose a pre-broadcast ban on the controversial programme, citing freedom of speech and expression.

It noted on Tuesday that there has been a change in circumstances because the tone and tenor of the programme emerged only after four episodes were telecast from September 11 to 14.

The hearing also saw a lengthy discussion on regulating media, particularly the electronic media. The court suggested the appointment of a committee of five distinguished citizens to frame standards for regulation of the electronic media.

The case will be heard again on Thursday.

Justice KM Joseph said that freedom granted to the media was not absolute and the manner in which certain television channels conduct news debates left a lot to be desired.

“Certain channels mute panelilsts when they express views which go against the anchor’s views. This is unfair. No freedom is absolute, not even journalistic freedom,” justice Joseph said.

He asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for Central government, to explore options for disclosing the shareholding pattern and revenue model of media houses in the public domain.

Mehta said the freedom of a journalist was supreme and any regulation of it would need extensive debate.

Tuesday’s order was passed in the face of vehement opposition by Sudarshan News lawyer, senior counsel Shyam Divan, who said such an order would amount to prior restraint on publication of news and would violate free speech.

“I reserve my right to fair criticism of the order after the hearing of the matter is over... Arguments were contrary to facts and records. My client has never said anything about Muslim community. We are concerned with the issue of national security,” advocate Vishnu Jain, who also represented Sudarshan News, told HT.

The court was hearing a petition by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan, who submitted that the programme contained statements which were derogatory about the entry of Muslims into the civil services.

In the programme’s trailer, which was widely shared on social media platforms, the anchor and editor-in-chief of Sudarshan news, Suresh Chavhanke was seen questioning how there had been a sudden increase in the number of Muslims succeeding in Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service exams.

Chavhanke went on to ask about what the consequences would be if “Jihadis from Jamia” (Millia Islamia) would hold positions of authority and power like those of collector and secretary.

The court, while hearing the matter, on August 28 issued notices to central government, Press Council of India, Sudarshan News and News Broadcasters Association, but had declined a stay on its telecast.

In a case related to the same show before the Delhi high court, notices were issued on September 11, but no stay was granted. Sudarshan News then proceeded to telecast four episodes of the show.

Chandrachud said every single person who applies to take the UPSC exam goes through the same selection process and the insinuation that one community was trying to infiltrate civil services does great disservice to the nation.

“What has been happening does not do credit to our democratic system. We are a melting pot of cultures, civilizations, religions and languages,” said justice Chandrachud.

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