Supreme Court’s dilemma on Sudarshan TV case

Between 11 September and 14 September, Noida-based Sudarshan TV aired four episodes of its controversial Bindas Bol programme on the conspiracy of alleged infiltration of Muslim candidates in government service. The anchor had even coined the term ‘UPSC jihad’ in one of the promos. The Supreme Court, which had earlier refused to impose a pre-broadcast ban, directed Sudarshan TV to not broadcast the remaining episodes until further orders. While some people argue that the court should have imposed a pre-broadcast ban, others felt that the current ban infringes on the right to freedom of speech.

Clear case of hate speech:

The promo of the show clearly showed that the object of the episodes was to vilify the Muslim community. By insinuating that there was an insidious attempt by the community to ‘infiltrate’ the civil service, the channel has openly violated the Programme Code of the Cable TV act. The code includes prohibitions against shows that attacked and defamed religions or communities.

The promo had phrases in Hindi that roughly translated to ‘Jihadis of Jamia’ and ‘Bureaucracy Jihad’. The promo asked the viewers if they would be comfortable with these so-called jihadis becoming their district’s collectors and secretaries in ministries. This amounts to defamation of students from a particular college and community and incites hatred against them. As noted by the Supreme Court in multiple cases, hate speech is not protected under Article 19(1)(a) which pertains to the freedom of speech and expression.

Sudarshan TV has a history of peddling dangerous misinformation and communal hatred through its channel and associated online forums. The editor of the channel ‘thrives on provoking’ Hindu, Muslim sentiments. This should have been taken into consideration by the Supreme Court before allowing the channel to air the ‘Bindas Bol’ programme.

The four episodes that aired before the injunction by the Supreme Court had clear motivations of inciting hatred against the Muslim community. Granting permission to air the remaining episodes will be a gross injustice to the community.

Press freedom is must:

Sudarshan TV said that the ‘Bindas Bol’ programme should be perceived as investigative journalism. It claimed that the show is of utmost national interest and the channel wanted to highlight a national security issue. The basis for this is the alleged funding of Zakat Foundation of India, a UPSC coaching centre for Muslim aspirants, from foreign terror-linked organizations. The show deserves a chance to be aired so that the public can debate and discuss about the issue.

Insinuations and defamatory content are regularly aired in prime-time news debates of several TV channels across the country. Singling out Sudarshan TV does the channel a disservice, as the law should be equal to all.

The Supreme Court should not take up the role of gatekeepers of editorial content, as there is a regulatory framework set by the legislature that already governs the code of conduct for print and electronic media. The government can penalize channels for violating the code.

In a democratic country like India, freedom of the press should be supreme. By disallowing the channel from airing the remaining episodes, the court has set a dangerous precedent.

P.S. The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has carried an article with a comprehensive legal analysis of the case here. Also, check out The Print editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta’s interesting take on this issue here.

This is an ongoing case. Yesterday’s arguments in the Supreme Court can be accessed here.