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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Sudarshan TV case: Concerned about balancing free speech, human dignity, says SC

In an affidavit, the Centre urged the court not to widen the scope of the matter by laying down any further guidelines for print and electronic media.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
September 22, 2020 4:41:18 am
Sudarshan TV, UPSC jihad, Sures Chavhanke, supreme court, SC bench sudarshan TV, indian expressSuresh Chavhanke

The Supreme Court on Monday said that while it is concerned about the likely implications of its order in the Sudarshan TV case on free speech, it is “equally concerned” about balancing free speech and human dignity.

In an affidavit, the Centre urged the court not to widen the scope of the matter by laying down any further guidelines for print and electronic media. The government said they are already regulated, and should the court decide to go ahead with the exercise, it should start with the digital media.

Urging the court to leave the subject of regulations to the “competent legislature”, the I&B Ministry also said “the term ‘hate speech’, by its very nature, is incapable of being precisely defined except by considering each case depending upon facts arising therefrom”.

“You are absolutely right. Equally, we are concerned about free speech and dignity,” Justice D Y Chandrachud, heading a three-judge bench, said when advocate J Sai Deepak, appearing for intervenors OpIndia, Indic Collective Trust and Upword Foundation, sought to draw the court’s attention to the “chilling effect” that any order from the bench in the matter may have on free speech.

“If you are targeting an identifiable group, they have civil law remedies. But when a wide amorphous group of people is targeted, where will one go to?…Hate speech is to stereotype and targets identifiable targets of the population,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The bench, also comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph, had on September 15 stayed the telecast of remaining episodes of Sudarshan TV’s show “UPSC Jihad”, saying “prima facie, it appears…the object, intent and purpose of the programme is to vilify the Muslim community…”

The channel’s editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke has urged the court to lift the stay.

The court had said that some images in the show were “hurtful” and “offensive” and sought to know what changes he would make to assuage concerns.

Replying to this, Chavhanke filed an additional affidavit stating that he will “strictly comply with all laws while airing the remaining episodes”, and will “abide and comply by the programming code and directions” of the I&B Ministry.

He stated that NDTV too had telecast programmes on Hindu terror and showed sacred Hindu symbols.

Perusing the affidavit on Monday, Justice Chandrachud said, “There’s no point in you complaining about something that happened in 2008.”

He asked advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, who appeared for Chavhanke, whether he was of view that the channel had complied with the law and programme code in telecast of the first four episodes, and whether he intends to air the remaining episodes in the “same genre”. Jain answered in the affirmative.

Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for three Jamia Millia students who filed petitions in Delhi High Court, said there was abdication of responsibility by the Centre. He said the “fundamental question is that the nature, theme and direction of the show is that participation of Muslims in civil services is an attempt to take over the country; that they are a threat and should be stopped by rest of the country”.

Farasat also referred to allegations against the Zakat Foundation, which trains civil service aspirants.

But Justice Chandrachud said, “Where SC intervenes is because it is against a community. Not because it’s an attack, assuming it’s one, on Zakat Foundation.”

“We are focusing on those ingredients of the programmes where it becomes hate speech against the community,” Justice Chandrachud said. He added that in the case of Muslims being extended OBC reservation, as well as funding of Zakat Foundation, the channel “is entitled to” raise questions.

Absolutely no check on Web-based digital media: govt

The government affidavit pointed out that voluntary organisations such as the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) “have their own self-regulatory mechanism which is not only robust but can inspire confidence as both such self-regulatory mechanism are headed by a former Hon’ble Judge” of the apex court. It stated that the mechanism is also “by and large, effective and ensures impartiality”.

It said, “…there is absolutely no check on the Web-based digital media. Apart from spreading venomous hatred, deliberate and intended instigation to not only cause violence but even terrorism, it is also capable of indulging in tarnishing the image of individuals and institutions. The said practice is, in fact, rampant.”

The Centre stated they also have “potential to harm the very fabric of any nation”.

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