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Sudarshan TV case: In ‘message to media’, SC says country can’t survive with divisive agenda

The apex court also pulled up the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the National Broadcasting Association (NBA) for their alleged inaction.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 18, 2020 11:02:23 pm
Sudarshan TV case, free speech, hate speech, TV propaganda, Indian express newsThe issue is fundamentally political and we should not pretend that fine legal distinctions will solve the issue. The big lesson of the last two decades is that an over-reliance on legal instruments to solve fundamentally social and political problems often backfires.

Taking strong objection to the Bindas Bol programme by Sudarshan TV that claims to expose a “conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service,” the Supreme Court Friday said a message must be sent to the media that “a particular community cannot be targeted” in the name of investigative journalism and that the “country cannot survive with such an agenda”.

The apex court, which has restrained Sudarshan TV from broadcasting remaining episodes of the show, also pulled up the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the National Broadcasting Association (NBA) for their alleged inaction and sought suggestions of the Centre and the NBA for strengthening the “self-regulating mechanism for electronic media”.

Asking whether media can be allowed to “target whole set of communities” and “alienate them” by doing such kind of stories, the bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said, “painting all candidates as carrying out an agenda shows the kind of hatred (against the community).”

“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 whole set of communities,” the bench, also comprising of Justices Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph, asked.

“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.

Express Editorial | Show vilifies Muslims but prior restraint sets a dangerous precedent when dissent is being criminalised 

On Tuesday, the top court had restrained Sudarshan TV from broadcasting remaining episodes of the show, stating that the purpose of the show was to “vilify the Muslim community”. It had observed that the show had made arbitrary claims “in wanton disregard of the truth”. On August 28, the court had declined to impose a “pre-broadcast interlocutory injunction” on the show. An episode of the show was broadcast on September 10, a day after the central government gave it the green light on condition that there is no “violation of the programme code”.

Earlier today, the bench told senior advocate Shyam Divan, who was representing Sudarshan TV, that the court has no problem with the story on investigative journalism on funding from terror-linked organisations but it cannot be said that Muslims are carrying out some agenda by going for UPSC services.

“Let a message go to 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.” “We are a court and seen as to what happened during emergency and it is our duty to see that the human dignity is preserved,” said the bench.

During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, 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.

While clarifying that it is not the “censor board”, the court observed that some of the “offensive contents” should be taken off the broadcast. “Some of the pictorials are hurtful to us such as green t-shirts and skull caps,” the bench said.

“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 court said.

The 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.

Divan said the show raised issues like funding sources and OBC reservations by the Muslim community. “The question raised is whether it is not a double benefit being enjoyed,” he told the court, adding that the “point of a view which makes someone uncomfortable is the very basis of democracy…”

Referring to the affidavit filed by Chavhanke, Divan said the channel used the term ‘UPSC Jehad’ based on information that ‘Zakat Foundation’ received funds from various “terror-linked organisations”.

“It is not that all contributors to the Zakat Foundation are terror-linked. However, some of the contributors are linked to organisations or are organisations that fund extremist groups. The funds received by the Zakat Foundation, in turn, are used to support aspirants for IAS, IPS or UPSC,” it claimed in a 91-page affidavit.

The court then asked the Zakat Foundation, an NGO that trains students for the civil services, whether it wanted to intervene in the case wherein Sudarshan TV has made allegations that it receives foreign funding from terror-linked organisations.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who appeared on behalf of Zakat Foundation, said the NGO was a charitable organisation that carried out a social service, and only paid the fees of IAS classes, reported news agency PTI.

(Inputs from PTI)

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