New Delhi: Seven former civil servants have filed an application in the Supreme Court in the case against Sudarshan News for its controversial programme that seeks to “expose” a “conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims” into the Indian civil services.
The programme is part of a series called Bindas Bol, hosted by Sudarshan News editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke.
The applicants before the court are IAS (retd) Amitabha Pande, IFS (retd) Navrekha Sharma, IFS (retd) Deb Mukharji, IAS (retd) Sundar Burra, IAS (retd) Meena Gupta, IAS (retd) Pradeep K Deb, and IAS (retd) Ardhendu Sen. They submit that they belong to an informal collective known as the Constitutional Conduct Group.
In their application, filed through advocate Anas Tanwir, the group says that the Supreme Court needs to “issue an authoritative ruling setting out the scope and meaning of ‘hate speech’ so citizens, implementing authorities and courts of the first instance received clarity on speech that is protected, and speech that falls outside the scope of protection”.
It points out that Sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code deal with hate speech, but the application of these provisions “has been uneven, and in many cases, these provisions are applied in a manner that is inconsistent with the guarantees under Article 19(1)(a)”.
Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.
The petition also gives examples to distinguish between offensive speech and hate speech, asserting that the Constitution protects the former but not the latter.
“Criticism, mockery and ridicule of respected and revered religious or cultural figures may be offensive, but it is not hate speech,” it says. “Calling for a boycott of the members of a religious or cultural community, or implying that they are “violent by nature” or “unpatriotic” by virtue of their community affiliation, is hate speech.”
The petition adds, “Accusations of dual loyalties towards members of any faith — and suggestions of treachery by virtue of belonging to that faith — constitutes hate speech.”
Cannot pre-sensor a TV show: Govt
The Supreme Court is hearing a petition filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan, who had submitted transcripts of the show in the court to contend that it would be derogatory to Muslims entering the profession of civil services.
He has also submitted that the contents violate the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, together with the Code of Ethics and News Broadcasting Standards Regulations.
The Supreme Court had, however, refused to impose a pre-telecast ban on the show on 28 August. It issued a notice to the Centre, the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters Association and Sudarshan News. The case will come up for hearing on 15 September.
Acting on complaints over the promo, the I&B ministry had also issued a notice to Sudarshan News, asking it for clarifications about the content of the show in context of the Programme Code enshrined in Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.
The HC had opined that the power to decide whether the broadcast was permissible lay with the competent authority under the Central government.
It, accordingly, directed Sudarshan News to reply to the Central government’s notice by September 1 and granted 48 hours to the authority to decide the issue after giving an opportunity to the channel and its editor-in-chief, Suresh Chavhanke, to present their case.
The Modi government then allowed the show last Thursday. The Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry said it cannot pre-censor a programme, or stop it from being telecast.
“If only, when the programme is telecast and any violation of law is found, action can be taken,” the order states.
The Delhi High Court then, last Friday, also refused to stay the broadcast of the show.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.