New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday sought to know from those opposing the telecast of Sudarshan News’ controversial program ‘Bindas Bol‘ whether a blanket injunction could be issued against the remaining episodes of the show that claims to expose “infiltration of Muslims” in the civil services.
A three-judge bench, led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, posed the query to advocate Shadan Farasat when he argued in favour of a permanent injunction against the show.
Appearing for three students of Jamia Millia Islamia, Farasat said ‘Bindas Bol‘ insinuated that the participation and success of Muslims in the civil services and the society in general was a terror operation to take over the bureaucracy.
The bench, however, told Farasat that he needs to first establish that the programme contained hate speech directed at a particular community.
“There could be an element of public interest in the show — should Muslims be classified as OBCs (other backward classes) for the benefit of reservation. He (editor) may be right or wrong but then he is entitled to express his views on the issues. How to portray speech is the question here.
“The fact that you paint the entire community with the same brush is a problem. But then can we issue a blanket injunction? If it is done, then aren’t we restraining a person from expressing views protected as free speech under the Constitution?” the court noted.
Four episodes of the Bindas Bol series had already been aired before the apex court, on 15 September, blocked its telecast. There are 10 episodes left to be aired in the series.
The central government has, meanwhile, filed a fresh affidavit before the top court, asserting that any endeavour to regulate television channels or series has to begin with the role of “uncontrolled” digital media.
Zakat Foundation of India (ZFI), which is at the centre of controversy in the case, has sought to intervene in this petition by stating that the channel has been “cherry-picking facts from publicly accessible documents on the internet and drawing unsustainable inference therefrom”.
‘Remaining episodes to also show there is UPSC jihad’
Editor-in-Chief of Sudarshan News Suresh Chavhanke refuted allegations that Bindas Bol defied any Programme Code.
His lawyer, Vishnu Jain, told the bench that the four episodes already aired were in compliance of the Code. To the court’s query on whether the remaining episodes will be on the same subject as the earlier episodes, Jain said yes.
“The rest of the episodes will be broadcast on the same lines that there is ‘UPSC jihad’, there is presence of foreign funding, a tendency to capture the bureaucracy,” Jain added.
He also suggested the court have a look at all the four episodes and offered to give an explanation for every objection raised, a proposition the court said was not possible.
The judges also took exception to television programmes cited by Sudarshan News on “Hindu terror” and “saffron terror” to demonstrate how these went unnoticed by the top court and other authorities.
While Jain offered an explanation to these references, the court said, “We ask you questions during a hearing to elicit reasons and response from lawyers, in order to enable parties to come out with perspective and chisel our understanding. You do not have the liberty to look for answers to every question posed during a hearing. Then we will stop asking questions.”
‘Court cannot become an enforcer of Programme Code’
The bench also made it clear to Farasat that the court’s intervention is not required if the show makes an attack on ZFI.
“This kind of an attack can be bad in taste. Someone might just say do not watch the television and read some books. However, if it becomes hate speech then we need to be careful,” it added.
The apex court, the judges added, cannot become an “enforcer of the Programme Code”.
ZFI will have a remedy under the civil law to claim an injunction because an “identifiable identity is being defamed”, said the court. But where a wide amorphous group of persons are defamed, only the courts can wield its constitutional power to impose a pre-broadcast censor, it added.
‘Regulate web-based digital media’
In its fresh affidavit, the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has stated that any further regulation on print or electronic media will prompt them to put out their content through digital media.
The affidavit also notes how digital platforms remain unregulated, despite having a wider reach.
The central government has specifically sought to regulate “web-based digital media”, including “web magazines”, “web-based news channels” and “web-based newspapers” which are “uncontrolled”. According to the government digital media uses spectrum and internet which is “public property”.
“No registration is necessary as of now nor any statutory provisions govern their functioning … except some provisions of Information and Technology Act,” it noted.
But the same was not in the case of electronic and print media because the “security of the nation is also taken care of at the time of registration and/or grant of license”.
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