SC Defers Airing Sudarshan TV Episodes; Can't Allow Show Vilifying Muslims

The SC directed an interim stay on the show "Bindas Bol" which aired an ongoing 10-part series making unverified claims about Muslims.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily restrained Sudarshan TV from airing the six remaining episodes from its program titled "Bindas Bol" anchored by Suresh Chavhanke which features a 10-part investigative series on how the Muslim community has allegedly infiltrated the civil services in India.

The 10-part series aired on Sudarshan TV's program 'Bindas Bol'—which began on September 11—spoke of Muslim community entering the civil services and likened it to 'infiltration' and 'jihad'. The promos of the show ran on social media platforms with the hashtag 'UPSCJihad'.

The top court acknowledged that based on the records produced, the circumstances on directing an injunction against the show has changed since the last time it heard the matter on August 28 when it had refused a pre-broadcast ban based on transcripts of a 49-second clip. "The court was truly in the realm of a pre-broadcast junction, since then episodes have been aired. The content, tenor and object of the show are known," the three-judge bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud said.

'We are a stable democratic society committed to the observance of rule of law under a regime of constitutional rights, values and duties. There must be a co-existence of communities if we are truly a melting pot of civilization, culture and language. Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with disfavour by this court as a custodian of values,' the court further observed.

The bench further observed the need for a committee "that commands respect" of five distinguished citizens that could be headed by a retired Chief Justice of India, Chief Justice of a High Court or SC judge along with four members from a cross-section of the society who are apolitical and with impeccable reputations. This committee could look at proposing uniform standards for news shows which the Centre could consider before issuing regulations.

Questioning credibility of UPSC exams, a disservice to the nation

The bench, which also comprised Justices Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph took umbrage at the content of the episodes colloquially knows as UPSC Jihad on the show 'Bindas Bol'. The insidious aspersions cast on the credibility of the civil service entrance exams were doing a great disservice to the nation, the court observed.

"Here is one anchor who says one particular community is trying to infiltrate UPSC. Can anything be more insidious (than such claims). Such allegations affect the stability of the country and also cast aspersions on the credibility of the UPSC exam," Justice Chandrachud said.

However, senior advocate Shyam Divan representing the Chavhanke-led channel objected to the interpretation of the shows portrayed before the judges. Divan submitted that the show not only adhered to the rules regulating broadcast television, but the journalist was simply presenting news gathered as a result of his investigation which according to him concerning issues of national security and needed to be aired in the public interest.

Show vilifies Muslims

Appearing for the petitioners who sought a ban on the show, advocate Shadan Farasat argued that the content of the show 'Bindas Bol' was nothing but a "vilification of the Muslim community".

According to the show, the mere participation of the Muslim community in the UPSC is grounds for terror, Farasat argued. "We are not discussing views on what is left or right, this show is hate speech. It is not even possible to respond to that. Hate speech demeans the very identity of an individual. By saying Muslims not worthy of being civil servants demeans their dignity, he said.

Advocate Gautam Bhatia, representing former civil servants also argued in favour of banning the show.

"Marketplace of ideas must not be choked off at the outset, but that rationale is undermining for hate speech. The community being targeted is denied the opportunity to respond nor are they given a fair space to respond. It's not a rational exchange of ideas.

Constitutional values of equality are at stake. One could achieve adequate balance to defer the airing of the program for two days," Bhatia said.

Freedom granted to media not absolute

During the day-long hearing, Justice Joseph observed that freedom of speech accorded to the media, even journalistic freedom, was not absolute. Commenting on the pattern of TV debates and the percentage of time the anchor took to speak. "Certain channels mute panelists when they express views which go against the anchor's views. This is unfair…," he said commenting on the quality of the debates.

The Centre, however, countered this argument and said that freedom of a journalist is supreme, and one would need to extensively debate before imposing any regulations on the same.

At one point, Justice Chandrachud questioned the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA)—a self-regulatory venture comprising of broadcast news channels—whether it existed beyond the "letterhead". What are you doing on shows where the people are being denigrated? What are you doing about shows conducting parallel criminal trials? We want to know what you all are doing," Justice Chandrachud asked. However, NBSA advocate Nisha Bhambani did not get a chance to respond since the hearing was adjourned for the day.

Updated On: 2020-09-15T19:30:04+05:30
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