SUDARSHAN TV ROW ON ALLEGEDLY COMMUNAL PROGRAM- TWO DIFFERENT ORDERS BY SC AND DELHI HC WITH FORMER ISSUING NOTICE AND LATTER STAYING THE BROADCAST

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On 28th August 2020, a program called “Bindas Bol” hosted by anchor Sudarshan Chavkhane was supposed to be aired by Sudarshan News. No sooner than the promo clip of about 40 seconds was released, did the complaints started pouring in with respect to the content of the show. In a promo clip released by the channel, the anchor could be seen trying to communalise the issue of Muslims being selected in various civil services.

On the day of its scheduled release on 28.08.2020, two cases (independent of each other) were heard seeking injunction order to stop the telecast of a show.

The writ petition in the Delhi High Court was filed by a group of students and alumni of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. While the matter was being heard before the Delhi High Court bench of Justice Navin Chawla, the petitioners submitted that the trailer itself showed the programme in question could be in complete violation of the Programme Code and various sections of the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995 namely Section 5, 19 and 20(3).

Section 5 of The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 states that No person shall transmit or re-transmit through a cable service any programme unless such programme is in conformity with the prescribed programme code.

According to section 19 of The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, the authorised officers have the power to prohibit transmission of certain programmes in the public interest (or if, it is not in conformity with the prescribed programme code). According to this section any cable operator from transmitting or re-transmitting a programme likely to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, linguistic or regional groups or castes or communities or which is likely to disturb the public tranquillity. 

Section 20(3) of the Act talks about the power of the Central Government to prohibit operation of cable television network in public interest where it considers that any programme of any channel is not in conformity with the prescribed programme code.

Further, it was submitted that irretrievable damage would be caused if the programme was allowed to be telecasted. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, being a party to the case submitted that after receiving several complaints with respect to the said show, it had issued a notice to the channel seeking clarifications. The Delhi High Court accordingly passed an order restraining Sudarshan News from telecasting the programme.  Read order here.

The view of the Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph, however, was quite contrary to that of the Delhi High Court as it refused to impose a pre-broadcast interlocutory injunction on the basis of the trailer of the show and said it has to be circumspect in imposing a prior restraint on publication or the airing of views. During the course of the hearing, it was highlighted that the expression of views derogatory to a particular community has a divisive potential. Prima facie, the petition raised significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights. Read order here.

It was pointed out that consistent with the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the Court would need to foster a considered debate on the setting up of standards of self- regulation. Together with free speech, there are other constitutional values which need to be balanced and preserved including the fundamental right to equality and fair treatment for every segment of citizens.

The Court, keeping the concerns raised by the petitioner in mind, issued notice to the Centre, the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters Association and Sudarshan News returnable on September 15 and court said it would consider appointing amicus curiae to assist it towards a resolution which advances the protection of constitutional rights.

As of now, the channel is supposed to file its reply to the notice issued by the Ministry of I&B by 1st September 2020. Meanwhile, a group of former civil servants have written to the Home Ministry along with various ministries to take cognizance of the issue and take strong legal and administrative action against the broadcasters of the allegedly communally charged, divisive show.

Image source: here

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