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Justice Chandrachud on Sudarshan TV case: ‘SC staying something is like n-missile but had to step in’

“The Supreme Court staying something is like a nuclear missile. But we had to step in because nobody was taking any action,” Justice D Y Chandrachud said. A government official, he added, “just wrote a letter —that’s all.”

“This may be good occasion to get some self-regulation in place,” Justice Chandrachud said and asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for suggestions.

The Supreme Court on Friday said it had to step in and stay the broadcast of the show “UPSC Jihad” on Sudarshan News on September 15 because “nobody was taking any action”.

“The Supreme Court staying something is like a nuclear missile. But we had to step in because nobody was taking any action,” Justice D Y Chandrachud said. A government official, he added, “just wrote a letter – that’s all.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that issues regarding the electronic media is “already being addressed on a wider sphere”.

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“This may be good occasion to get some self-regulation in place,” Justice Chandrachud said and asked the S-G for suggestions.

While agreeing to assist the court, Mehta urged the bench to confine the present matter to Sudarshan News and not expand it to frame rules for the entire electronic media, as that question is pending before a bench headed by CJI S A Bobde.

Whichever way the Sudarshan TV case turns out, dark days lie ahead’

The bench, also comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph, frowned upon some images used in the show and said they are “offensive” and “hurtful” and should be removed. The court asked the channel’s editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke what he proposed to do to assuage the concerns should the court consider his request to resume the show’s broadcast.

Referring to contentions in the petition, Justice Chandrachud said it shows flames in the background of a clip showing speeches and characters in skull cap, beards and green T-shirts.

“Questions are asked why IAS and IPS Association does not act when [AIMIM MP Asaduddin] Owaisi asks Muslims to join civil services and flames are shown in background…there are remarks like haramkhor…. Charts are shown about increasing number of Muslims in civil service and there are pictorial representations,” Justice Chandrachud observed.

Justice Malhotra said she also felt that the flames in the background and the green T-shirts were “offensive” and “can be taken off”. “Some of these pictorials are very hurtful to us. So they should be taken down,” Justice Malhotra said.

Justice Joseph said that in one episode, a member of audience is interviewed and he says Muslims are getting OBC reservation and should not get more. “What message are you sending? Bottom line is you are maligning a whole community”.

Justice Chandrachud said: “We are not doing the role of a censor. We are therefore going to give you a chance to say what you want to do. Without the court telling you what you have to do, you must come and tell us what you will do…. Let the marketplace of ideas flourish in India.”

He added, “We have to protect free speech. Equally, we have a constitutional duty to protect human dignity. That’s as equally important.”

Appearing for Chavhanke, senior advocate Shyam Divan said he will file an affidavit explaining what he proposed to do.

The court’s remarks came as Divan urged the bench to lift the stay imposed by it on telecast of remaining episodes of the show. He pointed out that there is danger in a court issuing injunctions.

“Today there is no such law regarding prior restraint. There is justifiable danger in introducing it through a constitutional court, because constitutional courts are there to demarcate the area and protect free speech,” Divan said. “What the SC can do the High Courts will also do tomorrow.”

Justice Chandrachud said the court is not in favour of prior restraints. “We espouse free speech. Tomorrow there will be injunctions galore in civil courts. We don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Divan said his client was pursuing an investigative report on alleged terror links of some of the organisations which gave donations to Zakat Foundation, which coaches civil service aspirants. He submitted that “it is not that all contributors to Zakat Foundation are terror-linked. However, some contributors are linked to organisations or are organisations that fund extremist groups.”

Justice Chandrachud pointed out that he was free to do any investigative story if he believed it is a national security issue. “Difficulty arises when on the basis of that you implicate a whole community as part of some conspiracy to destabilise or capture civil services…. This becomes the real issue,” he said.

Divan also referred to the situation along LAC with China and said Indian soldiers are facing hostilities. “You saw [The] Indian Express story on Chinese company tracking our people? … When this is pointed out, it doesn’t mean [a] journalist is demonising that country…. The other issue I have raised is whether Muslims should have the benefit of both being a minority and as member of OBC. The question is whether this is not a double benefit, an unfair advantage being enjoyed.”

Justice Chandrachud said the questions of reservation are complex and can be debated.

Divan said the programme is based on a narrow sampling and one has to look at it in whole, and not piecemeal. “I have said many times that a gentleman from any community coming and joining civil services is welcome…” Divan said. He said that Chavhanke had “said so expressly in the course of the programme”.

Divan also said, “I believe a cuss word here or something else there is not something that should ignite this court’s prior restraint order…. [The] nature of TV medium requires simplification…no one said the clips are doctored…he is trying to persuade the viewer to a particular point of view…. It’s probably journalism that falls short of the high standards of journalism, but not enough to ignite the court’s power to prior restraint,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud pointed out that there may be cases where some students go to some coaching centres because they can’t afford the expensive ones. To attribute motives to all of them because some funding is not above board would be wrong, he said. “It’s really a cause of concern because this is where it goes from free speech to hatred…then it becomes counterproductive…because you alienate them by this divisive propaganda,” Justice Chandrachud added.

Justice Joseph said every community would want to have a share in power, to “capture power”. “Everybody wants to be part of power structure. There’s nothing wrong with it…. You are marginalising people who should be mainstreamed,” he said.

Divan said, “I fully agree…(on) individual right to have a perception of a programme. Other viewers also have the right to have their perception.”

Justice Chandrachud referred to an earlier decision of the court wherein it had asked the government to frame rules. He asked S-G Mehta what happened to it.

Mehta replied that there was no statutory backing for imposing penalties then; therefore the rules would have been vulnerable to challenge. Now a new law has been framed and it is has been placed in the public domain inviting public comments, he pointed out. He said it has different kinds of penalties.

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