The Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained Sudarshan TV News from broadcasting the allegedly anti-Muslim "UPSC Jihad" series and made strong remarks against the tone and tenor of the show, a teaser of which was released on August 27, stressing that its objective seems to be to vilify the Muslims.
"Any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with great disfavour by this court which is a custodian of constitutional rights," said a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph
It ordered the channel not to telecast the remaining episodes of its programme, which promises to expose a "UPSC Jihad" conspiracy -- how Muslims are capturing government posts through the Union Public Service Commission.
The apex court was hearing a petition that had sought directions on how media should report some issues.
The Supreme Court called the programme “rabid” and suggested that there should be some mechanism for self-regulation in media, while fixing the next date of hearing on Thursday.
“We are not saying states will impose any such guidelines as it would be an anathema to Article 19 of freedom of speech and expression,” the bench clarified.
Nonetheless, it indicated that there could be a body of journalists headed by a retired Apex Court judge to keep a tab on such dangerous telecasts.
In the teaser, channel head Suresh Chavhanke had claimed that the show would unveil the ‘conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government services.’ Last Friday, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had allowed the show to be telecast. On the same day, the Delhi high court had declined to stay the telecast, after initially having stopped the channel from airing the programme.
“Such insidious charges also put a question mark over UPSC exams. Aspersions have been cast on the UPSC. Such allegations without any factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programmes be allowed in a free society? Can this be tolerated?" asked Justice Chandrachud.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the top court that freedom of journalist is supreme and it would be disastrous for any democracy to “control the press.” To this, Justice Joseph noted that no freedom is absolute. The Solicitor General insisted that it would be disastrous for any democracy to control the media. The right of a journalist cannot be snatched.
Pointed out Solicitor General Tushar Mehta: "Your Lordships have perhaps not had the chance to look at the rabid things being put forth both ways - not just on the right wing and the left wing of it, but the question is, can it be regulated? Something nasty written about me, can we really do anything about it? It is press freedom, after all."
Justice Chandrachud shot back: "Can this be tolerated in a free society? Perhaps an important petition for us to look at is whether self-regulation can be put forth."
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Sudarshan TV, told the bench that the channel considered it "an investigative story on national security."
"Your client is doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India is a melting point of diverse cultures. Your client needs to exercise his freedom with caution,’’ Justice Chandrachud told Divan.
The apex court observed that revenue model of TV channels and their ownership patterns should be put in public domain on the website.
“The point is that the right of the media is on behalf of the citizens only and it’s not an exclusive right of the media,” the bench said. “Electronic media has become more powerful than print media and we have not been supportive of pre-broadcast ban.”
During the hearing, the bench referred to criminal investigation being carried out by some media houses. "When journalists operate, they need to work around right to fair comment. See criminal investigation, media often focuses only on one part of the investigation," it said.
Senior advocate Anoop G. Chaudhary, appearing for the petitioner, said the Delhi high court had referred the matter to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry but the latter did not pass a reasoned order.
He said the ministry allowed the broadcast and did not hear the other side and simply took the statement of the channel -- that it would follow the broadcasting rules -- at face value.
On August 28, the top court had refused to impose pre-broadcast ban on Sudarshan TV.