The Supreme Court Friday questioned Sudarshan TV over its 'Bindas Bol' programme, whose promo had claimed that the channel would show the 'big expose on conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service', and asked whether media can be allowed to "target whole set of communities".
The apex court, while hearing a plea which has raised grievance over the programme, said the channel is entitled to break story but it cannot "brand the entire community" and "alienate them" by doing such kind of stories.
"This is the real issue. Whenever you show them joining civil services, you show ISIS. You want to say that Muslims joining civil services is a part of a deep-rooted conspiracy. Can the media be allowed to target whole set of communities," a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud asked.
"Painting all candidates as carrying out an agenda shows the kind of hatred. This is the element of concern," said the bench, also comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph.
"Here free speech becomes hatred. You can't brand every member of the community. You alienate the good members too by divisive agenda," it said.
The bench told senior advocate Shyam Divan, who was representing Sudarshan TV, that the court has no problem with the story on investigative journalism on funding from terror linked organizations but it cannot be said that Muslims are carrying out some agenda by going for UPSC services.
"Let a message go to media that a particular community cannot be targeted. We have to look after a nation of the future which is cohesive and diverse," it said, adding, "Let this message go to the media that the country cannot survive with such agenda".
"We are a court and seen as to what happened during emergency and it is our duty to see that the human dignity is preserved," said the bench.
Divan referred to the affidavit filed in the apex court by Suresh Chavhanke, Editor-in-Chief of the channel.
In the affidavit, the channel has defended its programme saying it has used the term 'UPSC Jehad' based on information that 'Zakat Foundation' received funds from various "terror-linked organisations".
Zakat Foundation provides training and study materials largely to Muslim students who aspire to join civil services.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, Divan said the channel has no problem with any individual from any community joining the civil services on merit.
"Channel wants to complete the broadcast. We are not running away anywhere. As far as the four episodes are seen as whole then a cuss word here and there should not ignite the jurisdiction of this court to impose a pre-telecast ban," he said.
However, the bench said, "Look at the tenor of the statements. Audience says all things which has been elicited by the show. We have no issue with the NGO or sources of funding. There issue is you implicate a whole community as taking over the civil services".
"Some of the pictorials are hurtful to us such as green t-shirts and skull caps," the bench said, adding, "We are not the censor board." The bench observed that some of the "offensive contents" should be taken off.
Divan told the bench that channel would file an affidavit with regard to the alleged offensive content of the programme as pointed out by the court.
The bench observed, "We know how an injunction order will be looked like. I am afraid that there will be injunctions galore and we don't want that to be the law of land. We want to give your client a good faith option." Earlier in the day's proceeding, the bench asked Zakat Foundation, an NGO which provides training to largely Muslims students aspiring for civil services, whether it wanted to intervene in the case following allegations of foreign funding from some terror linked organizations to its Indian set up.
The bench told senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Zakat Foundation, that affidavit of Sudarshan TV has allegations of foreign funding against his client.
Hegde said his client is a charitable organization and has been supporting non-Muslims as well and this kind of social service is not known even in government circles.
The channel has also filed an application in the apex court seeking live telecast of the hearing in the matter.
On September 15, the top court had restrained the channel from telecasting the episodes of "Bindas Bol" programme till further orders, saying that "the intent" of the episodes "prima facie" appeared to "vilify" the Muslim community.