The Supreme Court Friday refused to vacate its stay order even as it took strong exception to Sudarshan TV’s show which suggests that the Muslim community was part of a larger conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services.
The tarring of a community is where it goes from free speech to hatred, a three-judge bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph said while refusing to vacate the stay on the remaining five episode of its show on “UPSC Jihad”.
The bench asked Sudarshan News editor Suresh Chavhanke to file an affidavit to explain how he will assuage concerns over the broadcast of future episodes of his show so that it could consider lifting the stay order.
Referring to the contents and graphics of the show, Justice Chandrachud said, “You are entitled to say that there is a foreign organisation which has dubious funding. But to brand every member of a community, that is a problem.”
Justice Chandrachud added that as judge of the Constitutional Court he had a constitutional duty to protect human dignity, which is as important as our duty to protect free speech.
“We respect the right of freedom of speech but we are absolutely concerned about these kind of attacks against a community.” Justice Chandrachud said.
Justice Chandrachud suggested that for them to lift the stay on the broadcast of further episodes, Sudarshan News should come forward with an affidavit in good faith setting out the ways in which it would assuage these concerns, and ensure the remaining episodes do not cross the line of hate speech.
Justice Joseph also came down heavily on the channel for maligning the whole of the Muslim community.
“Apart from Muslims, there are Jains. My law clerk is a Jain. He attended a course funded by a Jain organisation for preparing students for civil services. Christian organizations fund their candidates also. Everybody wants to be a part of the power centre. There is nothing wrong with it. You try to marginalize those who should be part of the mainstream. If these people are marginalised, they will be driven into the wrong hands”, Justice Joseph said to Sudarshan TV’s counsel.
It is a matter of joy for the nation that Muslims are being selected in the UPSC exams, he said. But you (Sudarshan TV) are running a show to run them down.
“The bottom line is that you are maligning a whole community,” Justice KM Joseph said.
Justice Indu Malhotra also said that the elements of flames, and “hurtful, offensive” stereotypical images should not be used while broadcasting a show like this.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, on behalf of the Sudarshan TV’s Editor, argued his show did not transgress any law and the channel was ready to face any consequences if it had violated the law. Divan added the show was backed by facts.
Divan also submitted that the Channel had even reached out to the parties involved –Zakat Foundation of India – for comment and participation in the show, but they had declined.
“The thrust of the programme is that there appears to be a conspiracy that needs to be investigated by NIA or CBI. It appears that terror-linked organizations are funding the Zakat Foundation of India, which in turn is supporting the UPSC aspirants”, Divan submitted.
There already exists a mechanism, Divan said, for complaints and grievance redressal against violation of the progamme code. In support of his argument, Divan cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Common Cause vs Union of India, where the Court observed that there was an existing mechanism for complaints against the media.
Also Read: Sudarshan TV case: SC should focus on digital media first if it wishes to lay down guidelines, says Centre
Divan said that the show involved “weighty facts and weighty issues” which the public needed to be made aware of so they could discuss it. If he hadn’t done his show, the public would have lost out on this important information.
Advocate Shadan Farasat, representing one of the intervenors, submitted that the Editor-in-Chief had given an undertaking to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and then breached it a 100 times. Farasat urged the Court to watch the 2nd & 3rd episodes, which were, in his opinion, objectively hate speech.
Advocate Nisha Bhambhani, representing the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), said NBA was not a toothless body. It made channels apologise on prime time which hurt a lot more than a Rs 1L fine.
When Justice Chandrachud asked whether she watched TV and if she did whether she thought the discourse changed, Bhambhani said “It has improved”.
The Press Council of India’s counsel Preetesh Kapoor said Newspapers showed more restraint than TV channels and it was high time to have some guidelines for them.
Justice Chandrachud asked Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta to also consider how the Govt could strengthen the arm of the self-regulatory bodies.
Advocate Gautam Bhatia who is representing seven civil servants in the matter was asked by the Court to make submissions on the jurisdiction of the Court to impose prior restraints.
Advocate Ms Shahrukh Alam, representing one of the intervenors, also opposed the lifting of the stay order.
The matter will now be heard on Monday.