SC stays the telecast of Sudarshan News’ ‘UPSC Jihad’ show; says it prima facie appears like an attempt 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.”

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph, JJ has stayed the further telecast in continuation of or similar to the episodes which were telecast on 11, 12, 13 and 14 September, 2020 by Sudarshan news either under the same or any other title or caption. The case deals with telecast of a programme titled ‘Bindaas Bol’ on Sudarshan News which allegedly vilifies the Muslim community by portraying it to be involved in an act of terror or, as it is labelled, “jehad” in infiltrating the civil services of the nation.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

On 28 August 2020, the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution was moved for urgent directions since the telecast of a programme titled “Bindaas Bol” was to take place at 8 pm on Sudarshan news, however, the Court declined to issue a pre-broadcast interlocutory injunction. On the same day, a Single Judge of the Delhi High Court restrained Suresh Chavhanke from broadcasting the proposed programme and directed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to consider whether there was a violation of the Programme Code under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. A communication was addressed on 09.09.2020 by the Union Government to Chavhanke to ensure that the broadcast of the programme is consistent with the provisions of the Programme Code. Since then, episodes of the programme based on the same theme have been broadcast on 11, 12, 13 and 14 4 September 2020. The remaining episodes comprising of a total of ten episodes are to be broadcast between 15 to 20 September 2020.

PETITIONER’s SUBMISSIONS

  • The content of the episodes which have been telecast constitutes hate speech directed against the Muslim community and vilifies the community by portraying it to be involved in an act of terror or, as it is labelled, “jehad” in infiltrating the civil services of the nation.
  • The circumstances which weighed this Court in declining to order a pre-broadcast injunction have substantially been altered.
  • In the course of the telecast, palpably false statements have been made in connection with the Muslim community, including among them the statements that:
    1. While the upper age limit for Hindus in the civil services examination is 32 years, the age limit for Muslims is 35 years; and
    2. While six attempts are made available for Hindus to appear for the civil services examination, Muslims are entitled to nine attempts.
  • A carefully orchestrated attempt has been made to target the Muslim Community as being involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services.
  • The broadcast falls in the realm of hate speech. Based on the programmes which have been aired by Sudarshan News Channel, promotional videos have been placed in the public realm on their Twitter handle in pursuance of which a large number of persons have responded with responses which border on hatred towards the Muslim community.

SOLICITOR GENERAL TUSHAR MEHTA’S SUBMISSIONS

  • Some of the broader issues which have been raised in the present case would have to be addressed from the perspective of regulating not merely the electronic media but other forms of media as well, through which information which is purveyed can transgree the line of permissible content which can be shared and aired.
  • In pursuance of the order of the Delhi High Court, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a communication on 9 September 2020 stating that if there is a breach of the Programme Code, the Government would consider whether a case has been made out for recourse to its powers under the law.

SENIOR ADVOCATE SHYAM DIVAN’S SUBMISSIONS, FOR SURESH CHAVHANKE

  • There is no change in the position as it existed when this Court declined to grant a pre-broadcast injunction on 28 August 2020.
  • Chavhanke has embarked on an investigative exercise, this being a part of the fundamental duty of a journalist to convey information to the public.
  • The programmes raise issues pertaining to national security.
  • The contents of the programmes indicate the involvement of foreign funding.

COURT’s OBSERVATIONS

The Court noticed that at this stage, prima facie, 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.”

Several statements in the episodes, which have been drawn to the attention of the Court are not just palpably erroneous but have been made in wanton disregard of the truth. There is no relaxation either in the age limit or in the number of attempts available to the Muslim community in the civil services. The drift, tenor and content of the episodes is to bring the community into public hatred and disrepute.

Stating that the Court is duty bound to ensure compliance with the salutary principles of the Programme Code, the bench said that the Programme Code has been formulated under Rule 6 of the Cable and Television Networks (Regulation) Rules and has statutory force and effect.

  • Rule 6(1)(c), inter alia, stipulates that no programme should be carried which “contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words 8 contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes”.
  • Under Rule 6(1)(d), the Programme Code should not, inter alia, contain anything which is defamatory, false or reflective of “half – truths and suggestive innuendos”.
  • A breach of the Programme Code is subject to sanctions under Sections 19 and 20 of the Cable and Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

The edifice of a democratic society committed to the rule of law under a regime of constitutional rights, values and duties is founded on the co-existence of communities. India is a melting pot of civilizations, cultures, religions and languages.

“Any attempt to vilify a religious community must be viewed with grave disfavour by this Court as the custodian of constitutional values. Its duty to enforce constitutional values demands nothing less.”

Restraining the Channel from further telecast of the show, the Court listed the matter for further hearing on September 17, 2020.

[Firoz Iqbal Khan v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 737, order dated 15.09.2020]

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