Sudarshan TV case: Can media be allowed to target whole set of communities, asks Supreme Court

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New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Friday questioned Sudarshan TV over its ‘Bindas Bol’ programme, whose promo had claimed that the channel would show the ‘big expose on conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service’, and asked whether media can be allowed to target whole set of communities.

The apex court, which has already imposed the pre-telecast ban on episodes of ‘UPSC Jehad’ programmes on a plea raising grievance over the show, took strong note of alleged inaction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the National Broadcasting Association (NBA).

The top court sought suggestions of the Centre and the NBA for strengthening the self-regulating mechanism for electronic media.

A bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud, in a hearing conducted through video conferencing, recalled the days of Emergency and said it did not want to act like the censor board but the issue was whether the media can be allowed to target and brand the entire community and alienate them by doing such kind of stories.

“You have to tell us voluntarily what you will do to assuage our concerns. We don’t want to come in the way of journalism. We know as a Court what happened during Emergency, so we will ensure free speech and ideas, said the bench, also comprising Justices K M Joseph and Indu Malhotra.

The top court asked Suresh Chavhanke, Editor-in-Chief of the channel, to file an affidavit by Monday expressing his bonafide and voluntary decision on not using certain things in the programme.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the channel, defended the programme and sought vacation of the stay on its telecast saying it was not against the entry of members of the community.

He said the programme brought the fact to public notice that ‘Zakat Foundation’ has received funds from various terror-linked organizations.

Zakat Foundation provides training and study materials largely to Muslim students who aspire to join civil services. The contents of the four episodes, which have been telecast by now, came up under scrutiny of the court which flagged many aspects, saying all investigating journalism was permissible but maligning of entire community cannot be allowed. This is the real issue.

Whenever you show them joining civil services, you show ISIS. You want to say that Muslims joining civil services is a part of a deep-rooted conspiracy. Can the media be allowed to target a whole set of communities, it said.

Painting all candidates as carrying out an agenda shows a kind of hatred. This is the element of concern, said the bench. Here free speech becomes hatred. You can’t brand every member of the community. You alienate the good members too by divisive agenda, it said.

The bench told Divan that the court has no problem with the story on investigative journalism on funding from terror linked organizations but it cannot be said that Muslims are carrying out some agenda by going for UPSC services.

Let a message go to the media that a particular community cannot be targeted. We have to look after a nation of the future which is cohesive and diverse, it said, adding, Let this message go to the media that the country cannot survive with such agenda.

Divan said the channel has no problem with any individual from any community joining the civil services on merit. Channel wants to complete the broadcast. We are not running away anywhere. As far as the four episodes are seen as whole then a cuss word here and there should not ignite the jurisdiction of this court to impose a pre-telecast ban, he said.

However, the bench said, Look at the tenor of the statements. Audience says all things which have been elicited by the show. We have no issue with the NGO or sources of funding. Their issue is you implicate a whole community as taking over the civil services.

Some of the pictorials are hurtful to us such as green t-shirts and skull caps, the bench said, adding, We are not the censor board. The bench observed that some of the offensive contents should be taken off.

Divan told the bench that the channel would file an affidavit with regard to the alleged offensive content of the programme as pointed out by the court.

The bench observed, “We know how an injunction order will be looked like. I am afraid that there will be injunctions galore and we don’t want that to be the law of land. We want to give your client a good faith option.”

The bench also asked Zakat Foundation, an NGO which provides training to largely Muslims students aspiring for civil services, whether it wanted to intervene in the case following allegations of foreign funding from some terror linked organizations to its Indian set up.

The bench told senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Zakat Foundation, that the affidavit of Sudarshan TV has allegations of foreign funding against his client.

Hegde said his client is a charitable organization and has been supporting non-Muslims as well and this kind of social service is not known even in government circles. The channel has also filed an application in the apex court seeking live telecast of the hearing in the matter.

On September 15, the top court had restrained the channel from telecasting the episodes of “Bindas Bol” programme till further orders, saying that “the intent” of the episodes “prima facie” appeared to “vilify” the Muslim community.

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