Begum Jaan, an Assamese TV series based loosely on the theme of 1948 Assamese movie Siraj ran in legal troubles for allegedly promoting ‘Love Jihad’. Siraj was a critically acclaimed movie which was made on the theme of national integration with a message of communal harmony but in 2020, the series “Begum Jaan” was banned by the Commissioner of Police, Guwahati for a period of 60 days and a show cause notice was issued to the broadcasting company.

As per section 19 of The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, any authorised officer (in this case the Commissioner of Police, Guwahati) has the Power to prohibit transmission of certain programmes where he thinks it necessary or expedient to do so in the public interest. He can prohibit any cable operator from transmitting or re-transmitting any programme if, it is not in conformity with the prescribed programme code or is 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.

The matter then reached the Guwahati High Court and was heard on 3rd September where the petitioners submitted that the impugned order had been passed on the basis of the recommendation of the monitoring committee which was not formed as per the latest guidelines issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. They submitted that the latest guidelines mandate the inclusion of a representative from the field of electronic media which has not been done in the present case and therefore the said order was ex-facie illegal and was liable to be set aside.

It was further submitted that as per the relevant guidelines issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, it is the Central Government which alone is authorized to initiate action in the matter and the District Monitoring Committee is only empowered to make suitable recommendation to the Central Govt., that too, after hearing the versions of both parties. However, in the present case, petitioners were neither given an opportunity to be heard by the committee nor did they receive any copies of the complaints against them before passing the impugned order. He, therefore, submitted that the impugned order was violative of the principles of natural justice and fair play.

During proceedings of the court, it was acknowledged by all the parties that the constitution of the District Monitoring Committee was not in accordance with the Office Memorandum, the defendants however argued that this would not have any ramification in the matter since the Police Commissioner, Guwahati was independently empowered to take a decision on the complaints lodged before him.

The court observed that it was not possible for the Police Commissioner to issue the impugned order without including the recommendation of the Monitoring Committee since the complaints were evidently addressed to the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and therefore, a duly constituted monitoring committee was required to apply its mind on the merit of the complaints before making any recommendation in the matter which had apparently not been done in this case.

The court acknowledged in its order that no copy of the complaints was furnished to the writ petitioners nor were they heard in the matter before issuing the impugned order. It further observed that since nowhere in the minutes of the meeting of the District Monitoring Committee makes any mention as to which part of the complaint has been found to be sustainable and for what reason, nor does it mention as to which part of the TV serial was found to be objectionable and the reason thereof, the court was of the view that the impugned order dated 24.08.2020 was unsustainable in the eye of law not only on the ground of violating the mandate of Office Memorandum dated 26.04.2017 issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but also for violating the principles of natural justice and for non-application of mind. The court stated in its order that the Police Commissioner was clearly not justified in suspending the telecast of the serial by an ex-parte blanket order without giving an opportunity of hearing to the petitioners to explain their stand or recording any cogent reason for doing so.

The impugned order was thereby set aside and the Serial, “Begum Jaan” can now be telecasted.

Read order here.

Image source: here.