SC restrains Sudarshan TV from telecasting programme, says it apparently vilifies Muslims

 SC restrains Sudarshan TV from telecasting programme, says it apparently vilifies Muslims
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday restrained Sudarshan TV from telecasting its episodes of 'Bindas Bol' programme for two days on alleged infiltration of Muslims in civil services, saying the intent of aired episodes prima facie appears to vilify the community.

The top court, which on August 28 had desisted from imposing a pre-broadcast interim stay on airing of episodes, asked the channel not to show tonight and on Wednesday saying there has been a change of circumstances, at least, prima facie, on the basis of the record with regard to the content, intent of the programs.

At this stage, 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, a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud said in the order.

Terming India as a melting pot of civilizations, cultures, religions and languages, the bench said that any attempt to vilify a religious community must be viewed with grave disfavour by this Court as the custodian of constitutional values and its duty to enforce constitutional values demands nothing less.

The bench, also comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph, did not agree to the contention of senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the channel, that the telecast should not be banned keeping in mind the aspect of freedom of press and moreover, there was no change in circumstances from the day it had refused to impose a pre-telecast ban.

On the basis of what has been aired, we are of the view that it will be necessary to interdict any further telecast. Consequently, we direct that pending further orders of this Court, the fifth respondent shall stand injuncted from making any further telecast in continuation of or similar to the episodes which were telecast on 11, 12, 13 and 14 September, 2020 either under the same or any other title or caption, it said in the order while fixing the case for hearing on September 17.

The bench suggested that a committee of apolitical experts of distinguished citizens or former judges may be appointed to help in self-regulating the electronic media specially.

We are of the opinion that we may appoint a committee of five distinguished citizens who can come up with certain standards for the electronic media. We don't want any politically divisive nature and we need members who are of commendable stature, it observed during the hearing conducted through video conferencing.

The court took note of alleged false statements made in the episodes and said it has been reported that the upper age limit for Hindus in the civil services examination is 32 years and the age limit for Muslims is 35 years and while six attempts are for Hindus to appear in the civil services examination, Muslims are entitled to nine attempts.

Several statements in the episodes, which have been drawn to the attention of the Court are not just palpably erroneous but have been made in wanton disregard of the truth. There is no relaxation either in the age limit or in the number of attempts available to the Muslim community in the civil services. The drift, tenor and content of the episodes is to bring the community into public hatred and disrepute, it noted.

Referring to rules of the Cable and Television Networks (Regulation), it said that the court was duty bound to ensure compliance with the salutary principles of the Programme Code which provided that no programme should be carried containing attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes.

Under Rule 6(1)(d), the Programme Code should not, inter alia, contain anything which is defamatory, false or reflective of half - truths and suggestive innuendos, it said.

The bench also allowed the intervention application of former bureaucrats who wanted to support petitioner Firoz Iqbal Khan who is seeking injunction on the broadcast of the programme on the ground that they formed part of hate speech.

Divan, however, said the channel considered it as an investigative story on national security and the programme has 10 episodes.

There is whole regime of consequences if the channel has done any wrong in the programme, but I feel that there is no deviation from Broadcasting rules, he said

Referring to an earlier order of the apex court in the matter, Divan argued that it was rightly said that there cannot be a pre-telecast ban on the programme.

We will sit the day after tomorrow and in the meantime, you don't broadcast the episode today, the bench suggested during the hearing.

Divan opposed it and said, this is a case of foreign funding and I must say that if the telecast is stalled then I will raise the issue of press freedom.

The bench observed that regulating the internet is very difficult but there is a need to regulate the electronic media now.

Most of the channels are running for the TRPs, the bench observed.

There should be some kind of self-regulation in the media, the apex court said while raising questions over the programme.

Look at this programme, how rabid is this programme that one community is entering into civil services, the bench observed.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the top court that freedom of journalists is supreme and it would be disastrous for any democracy to control the press.

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