The Supreme Court on Tuesday told Sudarshan TV on Tuesday that it could not allow it to say “Muslims are infiltrating the civil services” and ordered the channel to stop airing its ‘UPSC Jihad’ series on the Bindass Bol show, pending further orders.
The court was hearing a plea against the series which targeted members of the Muslim community who join India’s civil services.
In its order, SC said: “At this stage, prima facie, it appears to the court that the object, intent and purpose of the program is to vilify the Muslim community with an insidious attempt to portray them as part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services.”
“We are duty bound to ensure adherence to the program code formed under Cable TV Act 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,” Justice DY Chandrachud said while reading out the order, Bar&Bench quoted.
The Centre had permitted the show to air after the Delhi High Court had asked it to decide on the matter.
The Supreme Court said that this permission had been given based on a 49-second promo of the show.
The channel has aired three episodes of its nine-part series.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph asked the channel to defer the airing of the next segment of the show scheduled for Tuesday night.
While the channel argued against this in the name of press freedom, Justice Chandrachud said, “This is not a freedom of speech issue. When you say there is a conspiracy by Muslims to flood the civil services,” LiveLaw reported.
Advocate Shadan Farasat, who appeared for the petitioners, said the show had been broadcast thrice. “The content of this broadcast is nothing but the vilification of the Muslim community and that their participation (in UPSC) is wrong,” he said, LiveLaw quoted.
“If you read the transcript you will see that they say Muslims are infiltrating the Civil services. They say how Muslim OBCs are eating the share of other OBCs. The show has graphs they have used words like “ha***** gaddar” in the show. Very unfortunate words,” said Senior advocate Anoop Chaudhari, who was also appearing for the petitioners, Bar&Bench quoted.
Advocate Sharukh Alam, in another intervenor petition filed by a group of Jamia Millia Islamia students, submitted that Sudarshan TV was using hashtags like “USPC Jihad”, “Muslim Infiltration” to promote the show.
Alam argued that the idea against Muslims in civil services was being spread in a very concerted way, Bar&Bench reported.
During the hearing, Justice Chandrachud said, “It’s an anathema on 19(1)(a) to impose censorship but at the same time human dignity has to be taken into account and some standards have to imposed which in fact, go beyond this program,” LiveLaw reported.
Justice Chandrachud also said that such “insidious charges” also put a question mark on the UPSC exams. “Aspersions have been cast on UPSC. Such allegations without any factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programs be allowed in a free society?” he was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench.
“Electronic media is as powerful as the print media because the access of electronic media is extraordinarily huge and broad and it can become a focal point for destabilising the nation by targeting particular communities,” he said, the LiveLaw reported.
Justice Joseph said that “when we talk about journalistic freedom, it is not absolute”.
“He shares 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,” he said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that freedom of a journalist was supreme. “Rabid things being put forth both ways”, not just by the right-wing, but the left-wing as well, he told the court.
“If something nasty written about me, can we really do anything about it? It is press freedom after all,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud said that an “electronic media house which is dedicated to profit making has to be differentiated from the individual blogs”.
“Your lordships must have seen those programs where “Hindu Terror” was highlighted. The questions is to what extent can courts control the publication of content,” Mehta said.
Mehta also argued: “During lockdown there was a web portal which carried a show as to how lockdown will lead to food scarcity and food riot thus leading to migration. I dont consider it less serious than a threat to communal disharmony,” Bar&Bench quoted.
Justice Chandrachud told Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, who was appearing for Sudarshan TV, that the court expected some restraint from the channel. “Your client is doing a disservice to the nation by doing what it is doing,” he said.
The top court had on August 28 refused to impose a pre-broadcast ban on the show while hearing a plea of lawyer Firoz Iqbal Khan. It issued notices to the Centre, the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters Association and Sudarshan News, according to The Print.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had then allowed the channel to air its show, cautioning it to not violate any programme code.
Meanwhile, seven former civil servants had also moved the Supreme Court to become parties to the pending plea seeking stay on the show’s telecast.
The former civil servants, including Amitabha Pande and Navrekha Sharma, have made an informal collective “Constitutional Conduct Group” and filed the plea seeking to intervene in the pending petition of Khan.
They said that the apex court should lay down an authoritative pronouncement on “hate speech” in view of the fact that it had expressed an intention to consider the balance between free speech and other constitutional values in the instant case.
The scope and meaning of hate speech should be decided so that the citizens, law enforcement authorities, and the courts have clarity on speech which is protected and the speech which falls outside such protection.
“There is no bright line between hate speech and offensive speech. Each case requires the application of judicial mind,” it said.