File photo of Editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News Suresh Chavhanke
File photo of Sudarshan News' Suresh Chavhanke | Facebook
Text Size:

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday restrained Hindi channel Sudarshan News from telecasting a controversial programme, which sought to “expose” a “conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims” into the Indian civil services.

The channel had termed the alleged conspiracy “bureaucracy jihad” and “UPSC jihad”.

The top court said it won’t allow television channels to broadcast programmes that seek to disturb communal harmony.

“As a Supreme Court of the nation, we cannot allow you to say that Muslims are infiltrating civil services. You cannot say that a journalist has absolute freedom doing this,” a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph observed verbally, brushing aside arguments of Sudarshan News that the restraint order impinges on journalistic freedom. 

The bench was hearing a petition filed to stop the telecast of the controversial programme that is part of a series called ‘Bindas Bol’, hosted by the channels’ Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke.

Four episodes of the show have already been aired after the channel got the government nod on 9 September

According to the channel’s submission before the top court, 10 more episodes are left to be telecast.

The SC said in its order: “There will be no telecast of the show in continuation of the shows already telecasted either under the same or a different caption.

Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with great disfavour by this court, which is a custodian of constitutional rights.” 

The court will take up the matter again on 17 September.

During the hearing, the judges minced no words in expressing disappointment at the content of the show and TV debates in general, indicating they might set up a panel of distinguished citizens to lay down standards of reporting for electronic media.

They said journalistic freedom is not absolute and that the damage will be irreversible if they do not stop the telecast of the show now.

The show was termed “insidious” and “rabid” by the judges, one which cast aspersions on the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) without any factual basis.


Also read: Not just stay, need action against Sudarshan News for ‘UPSC jihad’ show, say ex-civil servants


Sudarshan News doing ‘disservice’ 

Justice Chandrachud told senior advocate Shyam Divan, who represented Sudarshan News: “We are concerned that when you say students who are part of Jamia Millia are part of a group to infiltrate civil services. We cannot tolerate this.”

He further said: “Your client is doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India is a melting pot of diverse culture. Your client needs to exercise his freedom (of speech) with caution.” 

The judges even turned to solicitor general Tushar Mehta to ask: “Look at his programme solicitor, how rabid can it get? Targeting a community who are appearing for civil services.”

Divan, in defence, submitted, that his client had presented an investigative story.

According to Mehta, the question before the court is to what extent can it control the publication of content.

Unconvinced, however, the bench remarked: “The law says communal reporting cannot be done.”

“Here is one anchor who says one particular community is trying to gain access to UPSC. Can anything be more insidious than such claims? Such allegations affect stability of country and also casts aspersions on credibility of exam,” noted Justice Chandrachud during the arguments.

Attempt to ‘vilify the Muslim community’

Filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan, the petition claimed that the show would be derogatory to Muslims entering the profession of civil services.

Khan has given transcripts of the show in support of his contention. Seven former civil servants too have filed an application in the top court in the case.

The SC, which on 28 August — the first date of hearing — refused to impose a pre-telecast ban on the show, had issued notices to the channel, Press Council of India and News Broadcasters Association (NBA).

The Delhi High Court, which had originally stayed the telecast on 28 August, had later asked Sudarshan News to reply to the Centre’s notice by 1 September and granted 48 hours to the government to decide the issue after it received a reply from the channel.

Last Thursday, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry said it cannot pre-censor a programme or stop it from being telecast.

Before the top court, Divan resisted the pre-broadcast injunction, saying there was no case to interfere based on the slides of the show presented by the petitioner. Divan argued the Centre had approved the show and not intervened even after four episodes were aired.

Mehta too said there were authorities to deal with violations. But, on being asked what action did the authorities take subsequent to the airing of the episodes and whether the ministry applied its mind, Mehta said he would need instructions on this.

“At this stage, prima facie, it appears to the court that the object, intent and purpose of the programme is to vilify the Muslim community with an insidious attempt to portray them as part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services,” read the court order.

It was also noted in the order that factually “incorrect statements” were made in the programme regarding the upper age and number of attempts for Muslims in the UPSC.

“Edifice of a stable democratic society and observance of constitutional rights and duties is based on coexistence of communities. Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with disfavour,” the bench ordered. 


Also read: Former IAS, IFS officers move SC in Sudarshan News case, seek ruling on scope of ‘hate speech’


Can such programmes be allowed in a free society?

While hearing the arguments, Justice Joseph quoted the Cable TV Act to note that TV programmes cannot show anything that targets a particular religion or a community.

In response, Mehta tried to project that the trend had become a norm.

“Your lordships must have seen those programmes where ‘Hindu Terror’ was highlighted. The question is to what extent can courts control content,” the solicitor argued.

Justice Chandrachud, however, voiced concern. 

“Such programmes damage reputation, tarnish image. In the UPSC exam, all are subject to the same tests, interviews and are assessed by the same persons. But the insinuation is that one community is trying to infiltrate the UPSC. Can such allegations without factual basis be allowed?” the judge asked Mehta.

He went on to tell Divan that the court expected restraint from his client. The judges also assured Divan of skimming through the videos of the show.

Justice Chandrachud also asked the counsel for the NBA if it exists “apart from the letterhead”. 

“What do you do when a parallel criminal investigation goes on in the media and reputation is tarnished,” the judge questioned the lawyer.

No freedom is absolute, not even journalistic

Justice Joseph went on to say that no freedom is absolute, not even journalistic freedom.

“When we talk about journalistic freedom, it is not absolute. He shares the same freedom as like other citizens. There is no separate freedom for journalists like in the US. We need journalists who are fair in their debates,” the judge said.

Justice Chandrachud added: “When journalists operate, they need to work around to fair comment. See criminal investigation, media often focuses only on one part of the investigation.”

The judges hinted at setting up a panel of five distinguished citizens who can come up with certain standards for electronic media. 

“We don’t want any politically divisive nature and we need members who are of commendable stature,” they said at the end of the hearing. 

Justice Joseph even commented on the “standard of debates”. “Many a time panelists are not allowed to speak and anchors take up most of the time and panelists are half-muted,” he remarked.

To Mehta’s submission that electronic, print and social media cannot be compartmentalised anymore, the bench said: “Law does not have to regulate everything to regulate something. The mediums have changed. Now the internet is a vexed area as one can operate it from anywhere. We won’t say, we won’t regulate electronic media just because we cannot control the internet.”


Also read: Jamia centre at heart of Sudarshan News ‘UPSC jihad’ row has coached 500+ govt officers


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

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.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

13 COMMENTS

  1. अगर इस तरह हमारे देश मे हो रहा है तो इसे रोकना चाहिये ।

  2. Problem is sick minds. Bad upbringing, evil values instilled in formative years that lead to Chavhanke and his ilk turning out to be the ignorant, bigoted people they are. Will do anything to make money. The SC is right to stop them in their tracks before they make Indian society even more sick than it already is. I don’t see what is wrong with any group coaching its young people to legitimately do well in exams and gain entry to good jobs…. we want an inclusive society based on merit. Chavhanke and his ilk get ahead by cheating and other dubious means and can’t bear seeing those unlike them get ahead legitimately.

  3. I have seen drama of Sudarshan Channel’s chief editor 2-3 years ago where he used to speak against MP Owaisi and putting horn on his head, fire coming out of MP’s mouth and other such comic activities by Channel. I have blocked a number of sick channels whose main motive is to damage our society and increase TRP. It is also strange that people actually want to see such hateful program and defend such program. It also shows that such agendas run by few channels have got success upto some extent.

  4. S/c dwara diya gaya faisla ye sunishchit karti h ki.
    Kuchh log abhi bhi kisi k dabaw me aaye bina apna kam sachchi nishtha se kar rahe hain.
    Jai hind

  5. In stead of going into all kinds of arguments, can the SC not come up with clear lines as to what cannot be aired or expressed openly as it would fall within the reasonable restrictions to free speech.
    Stop any reference to a religion in public even by naming an organization with relation to a religion. Stop the spill over on streets of crowds from any religious place. Just as the Word NERGO cannot be used in US there must be a ban on use of any religion or religious word in public.
    Draw the lines once and for all as the unalterable basic structure of the constitution.

  6. you Can only go against Hindus, not against Muslims, because India is a secular country, you can promote shows about Hindu Terrorism and saffron terrorism, but nothing against Islam.

  7. The idiocy of this entire thing is unbelievable. Whether they air the show or not, the message is out. By this kind of publicity, everyone knows and is now curious. Instead of rebutting it, the liberal idiots have now fueled it with gasoline. Now Supreme court has been asked to interpret journalistic freedom. What is ok to say and publish and what is not? This is a bad precedent. The message is now out in the public. Given social media, this will be disseminated not over the TV channels but via other media. These campaigns are dealt with only by an opposing vigorous campaign.

    The other issue that is bothersome is this notion that Muslims are a threat. This is not a BJP thing. They may be adding to the already existing bias and exploiting it. It is the larger liberal cabal that needs to deal with this. Until they believe that this Muslim suspicion is real and dissociate it from the BJP, they will not be able to set the boat right.

    The other question is, how much of this blame is on the Muslim Community? This is something for the community to think and figure out how to change this image.

  8. Excellent judgment, these stupid tabloid Channels are out to wreck the pluralistic culture of India It should have bee stopped by Information and Broadcasting ministry

Comments are closed.