The Supreme Court has allowed Sudarshan TV to file an affidavit giving assurances on how it would change the tenor of the show 'Bindas Bol'—which has been criticised for its 10-part series on "UPSC Jihad"—that was found to be offensive, divisive and full of misleading and false claims.
Clarifying that it was not "performing the role of a censor", the top court has directed the news channel to self-regulate and come up with suggestions on what it would change, if it wanted permission to broadcast the remaining episodes from its series. "Let the message to the media also, that while we respect right to freedom of speech and expression, we have to look out for such attacks on the community in a nation where we are inclusive," the bench added.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday had directed Sudarshan TV to defer broadcasting its six remaining episodes from its 10-part series on the "big expose on the conspiracy surrounding Muslims who are allegedly "infiltrating" the civil services.
The top court had issued notice and directed parties to state their stand on this issue. Ahead of the hearing in the Supreme Court today, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), Suresh Chavhanke-led Sudarshan TV and the National Broadcasting Association (NBA) filed affidavits in this matter.
Referring to the "toothless" aspect of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), the bench said had there been "a viable solution, we would not have to step in". The "SC staying a program is like a nuclear missile. We did it because nobody took action. That's why this is a Good opportunity to bring in regulation," the bench said.
Disfavour on issuing injunctions to media: SC
Expressing its apprehension over issuing injunctions to the media or censoring what they can or cannot publish, a three-judge bench of the top court said that it looked in "disfavour at injunctions on media or clamping down freedom of speech". However, "there are exceptions in very few situations…and narrow range of circumstances," Justice DY Chandrachud said.
Recognising that "as a journalist, a channel has the right to present the news in its way", the top court however, noted that the episodes in question "distilled facts" from the finding "to project your right to raise the issue". The channel claims it has done an expose on Zakat Foundation of India, whom it accuses of being funded by those with terror links.
Looking at the "tenor" now of the show, the court said that it did not have a problem with an investigative piece on an NGO, but it became problematic if "when based on that" the channel "target the whole community".
"Can we allow you to go to this extent, where the media targets whole segments of the community…" the bench, which also comprised Justices Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph said. While Justice Malhotra found certain portions from the four episodes "offensive" and "hurtful", while Justice Joseph observed that the show was "trying to marginalise people who need to be mainstreamed."
Referring to Chavhanke's claim that the Muslims were trying to capture power by entering the civil services, Justice Joseph pointed out that many in a democracy wanted the same. "What you have done is maligned a whole community. How do u redeem it?" Justice Joseph asked.
"Branding a particular community becomes a problem. You alienate them with this divisive propaganda. If we were to allow you, what sort of assurance do you give (to change the tenor of the show)? We were distressed when we saw this (the four episodes), Justice Chandrachud said.
Not a rant, without facts
Suresh Chavhanke, Editor-in-Chief of Sudarshan TV argued that the episodes on "UPSC Jihad" is "not a rant without facts". This is fact-based journalism projected with a particular point of view. "I am entitled to voice and project this point of view", even if I don't convince my audience, Chavhanke told the three-judge bench during the VC hearing in this matter.
"Points of view which makes a person uncomfortable is the very essence of what free speech under democracy is," senior advocate Shyam Divan, who is representing Chavhanke, argued.
In his 91-page affidavit, filed through advocate Vishnu Jain, Chavhanke said the "thrust" of the programme suggests "there appears to be a conspiracy which needs to be investigated by NIA or CBI". The episodes in 'Bindas Bol' was called "UPSC jehad" because the investigation revealed that Zakat Foundation received funds from various "terror-linked organizations", which in turn "are used to support aspirants for IAS, IPS or UPSC."
If regulating, go after "digital media first"
Meanwhile, the Centre, in its affidavit, told the Supreme Court that if it undertakes any attempt to regulate the media, it must start with the "digital media first". There is no justification to limit the regulation to mainstream media only. The digital media "reach" is faster and has a "wider range of viewership/readership" with the "potential to become viral" due to platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter & Facebook, as compared to the mainstream media (print or electronic) where "the publication/telecast is a one-time act".
Considering the ramifications of digital media, if the top court "decides to undertake the exercise", start with digital media since "sufficient framework and judicial pronouncements" already exist with regard to mainstream media.
The Centre reminded the court that several statutory provisions enacted by the Parliament and top court verdicts already govern the balance "between the journalist freedom and responsible journalism" and hence "may not" attempt "laying down any further guidelines with or without the appointment of an Amicus or a Committee of persons as Amicus."