New Delhi: The Supreme Court has restrained Sudarshan News TV from telecasting the remaining episodes of its ‘Bindas Bol’ programme which had promised to unfurl a ‘UPSC Jihad’ conspiracy, after observing prima facie that the objective of the show was to “vilify Muslims.”
Hearing a plea against the programme, a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph made strong remarks against the tone and tenor of the show, a teaser of which was released on August 27 and had resulted in outrage on social media. The back and forth between lawyers, the bench and the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also touched upon essential questions of media, press freedom and the factors that go into controlling media behaviour.
“Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with great disfavour by this court which is a custodian of constitutional rights,” LiveLaw quoted the bench as having said.
In the teaser, channel head Suresh Chavhanke had claimed that the show would unveil the ‘conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service’. On September 11, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had allowed the show to be telecast. On the same day, the Delhi high court had declined to stay the telecast, after initially having stopped the channel from airing the programme.
The Supreme Court called the programme “rabid” and said there should be some mechanism for self-regulation in media.
“Look at this programme, how rabid is this programme that one community is entering into civil services?” observed the bench headed by Justice Chandrachud.
Farasat: The show starts with ISIS face shots. This is nothing but hate speech and communalising something which is not communal. The show basically means all Muslims coming to UPSC are Jihadis. This is being done under the garb of investigative journalism
— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) September 15, 2020
“See how insinuating is the subject of this programme that Muslims have infiltrated the services and this puts the examinations of UPSC under scanner without any factual basis?” said the bench.
“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 programmes be allowed in a free society?” the bench asked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the top court that freedom of journalist is supreme and it would be disastrous for any democracy to “control the press.”
To this, Justice Joseph noted that no freedom is absolute.
SG: Something nasty written about me, can we really do anything about it? It is press freedom after all.
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) September 15, 2020
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Sudarshan TV, told the bench that the channel considered it “an investigative story on national security.”
“Your client is doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India is a melting point of diverse culture. Your client needs to exercise his freedom with caution,” the bench told Divan.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the bench said, “We are not suggesting some kind of censorship on media but there should be some kind of self-regulation in media.”
“How do we lay down some standards for the media reportage?” the bench said, adding that there should be some kind of self-regulation and it would hear the solicitor general on this issue.
The apex court said the petition has sought guidelines as to how media should report some issues and guidelines for self-regulation.
“We are not saying states will impose any such guidelines as it would be an anathema to Article 19 of freedom of speech and expression,” the bench said.
The apex court observed that revenue model of TV channels and their ownership patterns should be put in public domain on the website.
“The point is this that the right of the media is on behalf of the citizens only and it’s not an exclusive right of the media,” the bench said. “Electronic media has become more powerful than print media and we have not been supportive of pre-broadcast ban.”
During the hearing, the bench referred to criminal investigation being carried out by some media houses.
“When journalists operate, they need to work around right to fair comment. See criminal investigation, media often focuses only one part of the investigation,” it said.
The bench told Divan, “We expect some kind of restraint from your client (Sudarshan TV).”
Senior advocate Anoop G. Chaudhary, appearing for the petitioner, said the Delhi high court had referred the matter to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry but the ministry did not pass a reasoned order.
He said the ministry allowed the broadcast and did not hear the other side and simply took the statement of the channel that it would follow the broadcasting rules.
On August 28, the top court had refused to impose pre-broadcast ban on Sudarshan TV.
It had issued notices to the Centre, the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association and Sudarshan News on a plea filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan who raised grievance pertaining to the programme.
The apex court had said that prima facie, the petition has raised significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights.
(With PTI inputs)