The Centre urged the Supreme Court on Thursday to confine the matter regarding the Sudarshan TV show Bindass Bol, whose telecast had earlier been stayed by the Court, to the channel alone, and not lay down “any further guidelines” for the entire mainstream media.
In an affidavit, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting added that however “if” the “Court decides to undertake the exercise, it should first be undertaken with regard to digital media as there already exist sufficient framework and judicial pronouncements with regard to electronic media and print media”.
A three-judge Bench of the Court had on September 15 restrained Sudarshan TV from airing the remaining episodes of the show, which it had been promoting with the hashtag UPSC_Jihad. While doing so, it had hinted that it plans to set up a panel to suggest guidelines for electronic media.
In its affidavit, the Centre said the issue of “balancing between journalist freedom and responsible journalism is a field already occupied either by the statutory provisions made by Parliament or by judgments” of the Court. Hence, the government said, “the present petition be confined to only one channel, namely Sudarshan TV, and this Hon’ble Court may not undertake the exercise of laying down any further guidelines with or without appointment of an Amicus or a committee of persons as Amicus”.
It further argued, “(the) situation in each case shall have to be decided on a case-to-case basis and a broader exercise which is too general in nature is neither warranted nor permissible”.
The government said that in the event of the court proceeding with the exercise, “there is no justification to confine this exercise only to mainstream electronic media”, and stressed the influence of digital media.
Media, it pointed out, “includes mainstream electronic media, mainstream print media as well as a parallel media namely digital print media and digital web-based news portal and YouTube channels as well as ‘Over The Top’ (OTT) platforms… while in mainstream media [whether electronic or print], the publication / telecast is a one-time act, the digital media has faster reach from wider range of viewership / readership and has the potential to become viral because of several electronic applications”. Naming WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook among the apps, the Centre said, “Considering the serious impact and the potential, it is desirable that if this Hon’ble Court decides to undertake the exercise, it should first be undertaken with regard to digital media….”
In its order staying the telecast of the remaining episodes of Bindaas Bol, the Supreme Court Bench led by Justice D Y Chandrachud had said the purpose of the show was to “vilify the Muslim community”, and added that it made statements “in wanton disregard of the truth”.
The Court had also taken a dig at the News Broadcasters’ Association, saying: “We need to ask you if you exist apart from the letterhead. What do you do when a parallel criminal investigation goes on in media and reputations are tarnished?”
In his affidavit, Sudarshan TV Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke said the aim of his show was “to expose anti-national activities and the manner in which some persons are being recruited to the Civil Services”. “There is no statement or message… that members of a particular community should not join UPSC… members of every community may participate in the entrance examination and qualify. The thrust of the programme is that there appears to be a conspiracy which needs to be investigated by NIA or CBI,” he said, adding that organisations working outside India had hatched a plot to “infiltrate the bureaucracy”.