'Insidious and rabid': SC stays Sudarshan TV from broadcasting 'UPSC jihad' show, calls on media to self-regulate

The apex court said the manner in which some media houses are conducting debates is cause for concern as all type of defamatory things are being said

FP Staff September 15, 2020 18:26:41 IST
'Insidious and rabid': SC stays Sudarshan TV from broadcasting 'UPSC jihad' show, calls on media to self-regulate

File image of the Supreme Court of India. PTI

The Supreme Court on Monday, calling for the media to self-regulate, restrained Sudarshan News from broadcasting its series on 'UPSC jihad' and came down heavily on the channel, saying it could not be allowed to "target one community and brand them in a particular manner".

As per Live Law, the bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph, observed that prima facie, "The object, intent and purpose of the programme is to vilify the Muslim community" and the show is an "insidious attempt to portray them as part of a conspiracy to infiltrate civil services."

Justice Chandrachud, chiding Sudarshan News, noted: "This programme was so insidious. Citizens from a particular community who go through the same examinations and get interviewed by the same panel. This also casts aspersions on the UPSC examination. How do we deal with these issues? Can this be tolerated?"

He exclaimed, "How rabid can it get? Targetting a community appearing for civil services!"

The Supreme Court's comments come a day after seven former civil servants asked to become parties to the plea seeking stay of Sudarshan News' 'Bindas Bol' programme on the alleged "infiltration" of Muslims into the bureaucracy and requested an authoritative pronouncement on the scope of "hate speech".

The apex court also stated that the manner in which some media houses are conducting debate is cause for concern as all type of defamatory things are being said, as per PTI.

The court's statement is noteworthy coming just days after the Bombay High Court, hearing petitions related to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, said it was surprised to know that the government had no control over the electronic media and asked why television news should not be regulated by the State.

Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, in today's hearing, told the top court that it would be disastrous for any democracy to control the press and that freedom for journalists is supreme, as per PTI.

As per Bar and Bench, Justice Joseph responded that journalistic freedom is not absolute. "There is no separate freedom for journalists like in the US. We need journalists who are fair in their debates."

Bar and Bench reported that, Justice Chandrachud, speaking to advocate Nisha Bhambhani (appearing for the News Broadcasters Association), said: "We need to ask you if you exist apart from the letter head. What do you do when a parallel criminal investigation goes on in the media and reputation is tarnished?"

Justice Chandrachud's remarks assume significance coming just just days after the Delhi High Court on 10 September, warned that the media could not be allowed to run a "parallel probe" in the Sunanda Pushkar death case.

The Delhi court, hearing an application by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor seeking an interim injunction against Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, from making defamatory remarks against him, urged Goswami to show restraint and "bring down the rhetoric" while covering the case.

The court said a police investigation was ongoing and that while the media would not be gagged, warned that it could not be allowed to run a "parallel probe".

'There should be self-regulation'

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Sudarshan News, told the bench that the channel considered it as 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 freedom with caution,” the bench told Divan, PTI reported.

The bench further said, “We are not suggesting some kind of censorship on media but there should be some kind of self-regulation in media”.

“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, as per PTI. The apex court observed that revenue model of TV channels and their ownership patterns should be put in public domain on their websites.

“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,” it added, as per PTI.

On 28 August, the top court had refused to impose pre-broadcast ban on Sudarshan News from telecasting ''Bindas Bol'' programme, whose promo claimed that the channel was all set to broadcast a ''big expose on conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service''.

It had issued notice to the Centre, the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association and Sudarshan News on a plea filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan who has raised a grievance pertaining to the programme.

The apex court had said that prima facie, the petition has raises significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights. The Delhi High Court, on 11 September, had declined to stay the telecast of the series.

With inputs from PTI.

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