New Delhi: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) which had in September allowed the telecast of some episodes of the “Bindas Bol – UPSC Jihad” on Sudarshan TV has now in an order, issued on November 4, held that the programme was “not in good taste” and had the “likelihood of promoting communal attitude”.
A day before the Supreme Court is due to hear the case filed against the channel, the ministry placed the order before the apex court. It stated that “the tone and tenor of episodes telecast do indicate that the channel through the various utterances and audio-visual content breached the programme code.” Further, it noted that “the ministry finds that they are not in good taste, offensive and has a likelihood of promoting communal attitudes.”
However, while it has cautioned the channel “to be careful in future” and to abide by the Programme Code, it has not barred it from telecasting the remaining episodes of the series. The Supreme Court had restrained the channel from airing the remaining episodes in September, observing that prima facie, the intent was to vilify the Muslim community.
The MIB’s order said that “after examining all facts and circumstances of the case and balancing the fundamental rights of the broadcaster, hereby ‘cautions’ Sudarshan TV Channel Ltd. to be careful in future.”
It also said that the channel has been told “that if any violation of the Programme Code is found in future, stricter penal action would be taken.”
‘Future episodes should be moderated, modified’
Further, the MIB, while exercising its power of regulation, directed that “the channel should review the content of the future episodes of the programme ‘Bindaas Bol – UPSC Jihad’ and the audio visual content should be suitably moderated and modified, so as to ensure that there is no violation of the Programme Code.”
The Sudarshan TV News’s trailer, released on August 28, had stirred a controversy as it proclaimed: “Think, what if a jihadi from Jamia is your district magistrate”.
The promo showed the channel’s head Suresh Chavhanke claiming that there was a “conspiracy” by the Muslim community to “infiltrate” the civil services.
Channel was accused of running communally divisive content
Petitions were immediately filed in the Supreme Court and the Delhi high court against the screening of the programme. It was also alleged that the programme content was communally divisive and in violation of the Programme Code enshrined under Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.
While the Supreme Court had then refused to provide a pre-broadcast injunction, the Delhi high court stayed its telecast. But it left it to the MIB to decide if the programme should be telecast.
Ministry allowed screening of contentious episodes
The Ministry allowed the screening despite disagreeing with one of the two contentions made by the channel in its defence.
However, as some episodes were telecast, petitions were again filed in the Supreme Court against the programme. While advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan claimed that the programme contained derogatory statements and sought a stay on further telecast, a plea by seven former civil servants urged the apex court to issue an authoritative ruling to specify the scope and meaning of “hate speech”.
SC makes strong observations
A Supreme Court bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph observed that “prima facie, it does appear to the Court that the intent, object and purpose of the episodes which have been telecast is to vilify the Muslim community. An insidious attempt has been made to insinuate that the community is involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services.”
During the proceedings, the channel contended that it was “concerned with the issue of national security”.
The apex court, however, said there has been a change in circumstances since it took up the issue in August and on September 15 it restrained the channel from telecasting further episodes.
In one of the episodes it was alleged that the Zakat Foundation, which helps Muslim students secure UPSC ranks, was receiving funding from foreign “anti-India organisations”.
Zakat Foundation chief termed the channel’s thought process an `aberration’
Talking to The Wire in September, Zakat Foundation’s founding president Syed Zafar Mahmood said that he had decided to set up a centre to coach aspirants from the Muslim community after the Sachar Committee highlighted the poor representation of Muslims in the civil services.
A former civil servant and Officer on Special Duty to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Mahmood said that the narrow thought process displayed by Sudarshan TV was an “aberration” and that “over 95% of the population would never subscribe to such radical views”.
He also denied all the allegations of financial wrongdoing, and said that his Foundation has regularly fulfilled all the fairness rules prescribed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, in addition to adhering to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act and income tax laws.