File image of the Supreme Court of India | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
File image of the Supreme Court of India | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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New Delhi: While the Supreme Court made many correct observations with regard to the Sudarshan News show on Muslims entering civil services, it’s final order to bar the continuation of the show has set a bad precedent, said ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta in episode 569 of ‘Cut The Clutter’.

Gupta was referring to the TV channel’s controversial show ‘Bindas Bol’, hosted by its editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke, which the top court labelled as an attempt to “vilify the Muslim community”.

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

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.


Also read: Regulate digital media first, Centre tells Supreme Court in Sudarshan News ‘UPSC Jihad’ case


What the Supreme Court got right

“In their order and observations during the hearing, the court said this is an insidious attempt to make it look like Muslims are infiltrating the UPSC and that it vilifies the Muslim community, which I fully agree with, and I don’t think many right-minded Indians will be able to disagree with this,” Gupta said.

He added that the top court correctly pointed out factual errors in the show such as claims that the upper age limit is higher for Muslims taking the civil service exam and that they are given more attempts.

The court also said the show could victimise a particular community and spur media trials that cover only one side of the story and proclaim someone guilty before trial.

“I think this is a direct reference to Rhea Chakraborty in the Sushant Singh Rajput situation and we have to applaud the judges for saying this,” said Gupta.

The court’s observation that electronic media is very influential and that such shows could shake the edifice of the Constitution, which rests on the idea that all communities should coexist peacefully, is also correct, according to him.


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


Where the Supreme Court started to err

However, Gupta noted, judges are not editors and they are not sitting on social media handles. They have to remember that serving judges, especially in the Supreme Court, cannot participate in a debate since they sit at a place where debate comes to an end. What they say is the last word.

In the hearing, Justice Joseph said that channels should display their revenue models and according to Gupta, “It is like ordering someone to betray their trade secrets.”

The motivation is right, but the idea is wrong, Gupta added.

Justice Joseph also said that channels should display how much government advertising they are getting.

But this is very easily solved by ordering the government to disclose how much advertising they are giving to every media organisation, every year, said Gupta. This should be done on the government’s end and not at the channel’s end.

There were also arguments made on the freedom of press in the hearing.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the freedom of a journalist is “supreme” and it will be “disastrous” for any democracy to control the press.

While Mehta makes the right statements, he is on the wrong side since he appeared in favour of Sudarshan News airing the programme, which is insidious and vilifies the Muslim community, Gupta said.

However, the court said that freedom of press is not absolute.

They also added that such journalism, as the one practiced by Sudarshan News, does a disservice to the nation.

“All are very wise and correct comments but this is also an editorial comment,” said Gupta.

Furthermore, the bench also talked about how channels are driven by ratings.

However, the logic of numbers is essential to all businesses and it is much more cruel in terms of the media because your numbers are openly available, noted Gupta.


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


SC has intervened in media functioning before

Courts have tried to intervene in the functioning of the media before. During the Gujjar protests in Rajasthan that began in 2008, some channels displayed graphic images of the violence that led to a “conflagration”.

The Supreme Court took note of this and set up a committee of “eminent” people, including jurist Fali Sam Nariman, senior journalist Prannoy Roy and former editor-in-chief of Dainik Jagran Sanjay Gupta. Shekhar Gupta was also on this committee.

“That committee was meant to produce a report and recommendations on how to regulate TV channels,” explained Gupta.

“At the time, I told one of my colleagues that this was a terrible idea and the Supreme Court was not enhancing freedom but curtailing it,” he added. The committee eventually dissolved that year itself.

Today’s bench suggested a similar committee to review the Sudarshan News case.

“But who’s eminent or what is eminent?” asked Gupta. “It doesn’t mean that anybody who is famous is eminent. A committee will have human beings who will have their own prejudices and vulnerabilities on views.”

Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s decision to put Sudarshan News‘ show on hold is dangerous as it can be misused by another bench 5 to 10 years down the line, he noted.

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