A controversial television show slated to be aired by TV channel Sudarshan News on the entry of Muslims in the civil services is aimed at vilifying the Muslim community, the Supreme Court observed on Tuesday as it barred the channel from going ahead with the telecast of the remaining six episodes of the programme “Bindas Bol”.
The court will hear the case on Thursday as well. The channel had earlier aired four episodes.
The top court took strong exception to the contents of the show, noting that the claims made by the channel seemed to be “insidious”, painted an entire community with the same brush and cast aspersions on the credibility of the exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.
“Prima facie, it does appear to the Court that the intent, object and purpose of the episodes which have been telecast is to vilify the Muslim community. An insidious attempt has been made to insinuate that the community is involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services. The drift, tenor and content of the episodes is to bring the community into public hatred and disrepute…Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with disfavour by this court as a custodian of Constitutional values,” the bench comprising justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph said.
At an earlier hearing, the court had declined to impose a pre-broadcast ban on the controversial programme citing freedom of speech and expression.
On Tuesday, the judges said there has been a change in circumstances because of the tone, tenor of the programme that emerged after 4 episodes were telecast from September 11 to 14.
“We are of the view that there has been a change of circumstances at least prima facie on the basis of the record which has emerged before this court. We order and direct that pending further orders of this court, Sudarshan News shall stand injuncted from airing any further broadcasts in continuation of or similar to the broadcast which have taken place on September 11, 12, 13 and 14 either under the same or any other title or caption,” the bench ordered.
Senior counsel Shyam Divan, who appeared for Sudarshan News, told the judges that such an order would amount to prior restraint on publication of news and would violate free speech.
“I reserve my right to fair criticism of the order after the hearing of the matter is over. As of now, I feel that the entire telecast of 4 episodes must have been referred to by the petitioners/intervenors. Their arguments were contrary to facts and records. My client has never said anything about Muslim community. We are concerned with the issue of national security,” advocate Vishnu Jain who represented Sudarshan News told HT.
The court was hearing a petition by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan who submitted that the programme contained statements that were derogatory about the entry of Muslims in the civil services. In the programme’s trailer, which was widely shared on social media platforms, the anchor and editor-in-chief of Sudarshan news, Suresh Chavhanke was seen questioning what he called was a sudden increase in the number of Muslims succeeding in IAS and IPS exams.
Chavhanke had asked about what the consequences would be if “Jihadis from Jamia (university)” would hold positions of authority and power like that of Collector and Secretary.
Khan submitted that expression of views were derogatory to a particular community, has a divisive potential and was in violation of programme code enumerated under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995.
Simultaneously, another petition on the same subject matter was heard by the Delhi high court ,which on August 28, stayed the telecast and asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to take a call on the matter. The ministry cleared the programme on September 10 while directing the channel to ensure that the show does not violate any programme code. Action would be taken as per the law if any violation was found, it said.
Subsequently, a fresh petition was filed before the high court which issued notice on the plea on September 11 but declined stay. Sudarshan News had then proceeded to telecast four episode of the show
Senior counsel Anoop Choudhari and advocate Shadan Farasat appearing on behalf of petitioners and intervenors submitted before the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the telecast violated the programme code and amounted to hate speech.
Farasat pointed out that the programme made false statements regarding relaxation being afforded to Muslim candidates with respect to upper age-limit and number of attempts available to take the exam.
The bench was critical of the episodes aired by the channel stating that the insinuations made in the programme did not befit the democratic traditions of the country and that several statements which were brought to the attention of the court are “palpably erroneous”.
“You are doing a great disservice to the nation. What has been happening does not do credit to our democratic system. We are a melting pot of cultures, civilizations, religions and languages,” said justice DY Chandrachud.
Justice Chandrachud also stated that every single person who applies for the UPSC goes through the same selection process and the insinuation that one community is trying to infiltrate civil services does great disservice to the nation.
“In the UPSC exam, all are subjected to the same tests, interviews and are assessed by the same persons. But the insinuation is that one community is trying to infiltrate the UPSC. What you are doing does not do credit to our democratic system. Your client is doing great disservice to the nation. We are a melting pot of cultures,” Chandrachud told Divan.
Divan submitted that the programme raises an issue concerning national security and it is in public interest to bring out the story.
“The programme is in adherence to programme code,” Divan claimed while also underscoring that the matter involves foreign funding from sources which are inimical to India’s interests.
Justice KM Joseph, who was also on the bench, said freedom granted to the media is not absolute and the manner in which certain television channels conduct news debates today left a lot to be desired.
He asked solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for central government, to explore options on disclosing the shareholding pattern and revenue model of media houses on public domain.
“Certain channels mute panelists when they express views which go against the anchor’s views. This is unfair. No freedom is absolute, not even journalistic freedom,” justice Joseph said.