The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the broadcast of Bindas Bol aired by Sudarshan news channel till further orders, prima facie observing that the object of the programme is to vilify the Muslim community and accuse it of surreptitiously trying to infiltrate the civil services.
“Episodes broadcast till now show the nature and objective of the programme. Pending further orders of the court, Sudarshan News stands injuncted from making any more broadcasts on this subject on any other name too”, a three-judge Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud ordered.
Also Read | HC declines to stay telecast of Sudarshan TV’s programme on Muslim ‘infiltration’ in govt. services
The court said it was “insidious” to use the freedom of press to make “rabid” allegations and mount an attack on a religious minority community.
The court was hearing a plea alleging that the show makes communal remarks about the entry of members of the Muslim community into the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission). At one point, it said, the anchor used phrase “UPSC jihad”.
The court said, “The edifice of a stable democratic society and observance of constitutional rights and duties is based on the co-existence of communities... India is a melting pot of civilisations, cultures and values... Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with disfavour”.
The court noted that it was duty-bound to ensure adherence to the Programme Code framed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995.
Justice Chandrachud said “as the Supreme Court of the nation, we cannot allow you to say that Muslims are infiltrating civil services”.
Also Read | Retired bureaucrats demand action against Sudarshan TV
Referring to the content of the programme, the court said it would not tolerate if the channel tried to portray that students of Jamia Millia were a part of a group trying to infiltrate the civil services.
“How rabid can it get? Targeting a community for appearing in the civil services exam? Such insidious charges put a question mark on the UPSC exams itself. Can such programmes be allowed in a free society?” the court asked.
Senior advocate Anoop Chaudhari, for petitioner Firoz Iqbal Khan, said the show was “blatantly communal” and had become a “focal point” of hate speech. It was a nine-part show and only the first few parts were over.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, for the channel, said he was instructed it was an investigative story done keeping in mind public interest and national security. The show wanted to highlight that funds were pouring in from unfriendly sources abroad. The channel had not violated the Programme Code. Showing select visuals in court was not fair.
Mr. Divan agreed to file a detailed reply by Thursday (September 17), the next date of hearing.
One of the lawyers, advocate Shadan Farasat, highlighted that the show began with some visuals about the IS. Communalisation was being done in the garb of investigative journalism.
Also Read | Suresh Chavhanke, Sudarshan News editor-in-chief, booked on charges of spreading communal hate
Justice K.M. Joseph, on the Bench, said specific provisions in the Programme Code banned shows that created communal disharmony. Journalists were bestowed with their power of free speech on behalf of people. “Journalistic freedom is not absolute. Journalists need to be fair in their debates. We have to remember that their freedom is the same as that of any other citizen”, he pointed out.
Justice Chandrachud referred to how media tend to cover only one part of an investigation. Media had a duty to comment fairly. “Reputation and image cannot be damaged”, he observed.
Justice Joseph suggested public transparency in ownership, shareholding patterns and revenue flow into visual media houses. He referred to whether the government could pump in or hold back advertisements. He pointed to the conduct of TV anchors on air, muting their panellists or grabbing the limelight for themselves and giving others hardly an opportunity to air their point of view.
Justice Chandrachud said, “Media cannot fall foul of standards prescribed by themselves.”
The court observed that it would welcome the best minds in the country to suggest measures. The Bench, however, categorically said it cannot be left to the State to frame guidelines on media conduct.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta agreed that press freedom in a democracy was supreme. It would be nothing short of a disaster to curb the press in a free society. The concerns of the court should be addressed without compromising the freedom of press, he said.
Social media ran parallel to and was equally influential as the print and the electronic media. However, there were many web portals whose ownership were different from what was displayed.