In an earlier post we had covered how the show, Bindas Bol on Sudarshan News, anchored by Sudarshan Chavkhane has been in legal trouble for being communalising in nature ever since it’s trailer was released. The Supreme court had earlier declined to issue a pre-broadcast interlocutory injunction while the Delhi High Court restrained Sudarshan News from broadcasting the proposed programme and directed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to consider whether there was a violation of the Programme Code under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. On  9th  September 2020, a communication was made by the Union Government to the news channel to ensure that the broadcast of the programme was consistent with the provisions of the Programme Code. Before the present case was listed before a bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice K.M Joseph on 15th September, four episodes of the show had already been aired and the rest were to be broadcasted between 15 to 20 September 2020. Read order here.

On behalf of the petitioners, it was submitted that the content of the episodes which had been telecasted constituted hate speech directed against the Muslim community. It had also been submitted that the telecasts vilified the community by portraying it to be involved in an act of terror or, as it is labelled, “jihad” in infiltrating the civil services of the nation. The petitioners therefore submitted that the restraint which was observed by the Supreme Court in declining to issue an order of injunction on 28 August 2020 should warrant a change.

It was further  emphasized by the petitioners that in the course of the telecast, palpably false statements had been made in connection with the Muslim community, including among them the statements that:

(i) While the upper age limit for Hindus in the civil services examination is 32 years, the age limit for Muslims is 35 years; and

(ii) While six attempts are made available for Hindus to appear for the civil services examination, Muslims are entitled to nine attempts.

It was submitted that a carefully orchestrated attempt had been made to target the Muslim Community as being involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services and the said broadcast falls in the realm of hate speech and to substantiate their claim, screenshots of hate comments on various social media and the hate comments on the trailer of the show concerned were put forth.

What was submitted on behalf of Sudarshan News before the Supreme Court was that it had embarked on an investigative exercise with the show being a part of the fundamental duty of a journalist to convey information to the public. Furthermore, it was submitted that the programmes raise issues pertaining to national security. It was also submitted that the contents of the programmes indicate the involvement of foreign funding. On the above mentioned grounds, Mr. Divan, advocate for Sudarshan News had urged the Court to decline the request of the petitioners to grant an interim injunction, particularly having regard to the earlier order passed by the Court.

The Court noted that an insidious attempt was being made to insinuate that the Muslim community is involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services. It observed that several statements in the episodes, which had been drawn to the attention of the Court were not just palpably erroneous but had been made in wanton disregard of the truth including statements referring to relaxation either in the age limit or in the number of attempts available to the Muslim community in the civil services. The court further stated that the drift, tenor and content of the episodes was to bring the community into public hatred and disrepute.

Citing Rule 6(1)(c) which stipulates that no programme should be carried which “contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes” and 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”, The Supreme Court passed an injunction against Sudarshan News 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 since the following episodes would be in the same vein as the episodes already aired by the channel.

The court also observed that the edifice of a democratic society committed to the rule of law under a regime of constitutional rights, values and duties is founded on the co-existence of communities. India is a melting pot of civilizations, cultures, religions and languages. Any attempt to vilify a religious community must be viewed with grave disfavour by this Court as the custodian of constitutional values. Its duty to enforce constitutional values demands nothing less.

The present case not only prima facie tries to communalise the issue based on false facts intending to spread hate between certain sections of the society but also outrightly raises questions on the transparency of a constitutional body that is UPSC. Furthermore, this also raises questions on the deteriorating standards of journalism and more importantly raises a very important issue of maintaining a balance between Freedom of Speech and Censorship before the court and what exactly can constitute as hate speech. The matter is again listed on 21st September for further hearing.

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