The Supreme Court Tuesday restrained Sudarshan TV from telecasting two episodes of 'Bindas Bol' programme, which are scheduled for today and tomorrow, saying it prime facie appears to"vilify" the Muslim community.
"At this stage, prima facie it does appear that the programme does vilify the Muslim community," the apex court said while staying the telecast of two episodes of the programme on alleged infiltration of Muslims into the bureaucracy.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud, which was hearing a plea which raised grievance over the programme, said it would hear the matter on September 17.
The bench, also comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph, suggested that a committee can be appointed to help in self-regulating the electronic media.
"We are of the opinion that we may appoint a committee of five distinguished citizens who can come up with certain standards for the electronic media. We don't want any politically divisive nature and we need members who are of commendable stature," the bench said.
The counsel appearing for the petitioner has sought reliefs, including injunction on broadcasting of the programme whose promo had claimed that channel would show the 'big expose on conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service'.
The bench, which said it is necessary to hear the matter further, observed that court is duty bound to preserve the "salutary principles" It referred to the Cable TV rules and said that "defamatory, false and reflective of half-truth and innuendos" must not be shown.
The bench said that pending further orders, the channel is "injuncted from making any more broadcasts on this subject on any other name too".
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Sudarshan TV, told the bench that the channel considered it as an investigative story on national security and the programme has 10 episodes.
"There is whole regime of consequences if the channel has done any wrong in the programme, but I feel that there is no deviation from Broadcasting rules," Divan said.
Referring to an earlier order of the apex court in the matter, Divan argued that it was rightly said that there cannot be pre-telecast ban on the programme.
"We will sit day after tomorrow and in the meantime, you don't broadcast the episode today," the bench suggested during the hearing.
Divan opposed it and said, "this is a case of foreign funding and I must say that if the telecast is stalled then I will raise the issue of press freedom".
The bench observed that regulating internet is very difficult but there is a need to regulate the electronic media now.
"Most of the channels are running for the TRPs," the bench observed.
There should be some kind of self-regulation in the media, the apex court said while raising questions over the programme.
"Look at this programme, how rabid is this programme that one community is entering into civil services," the bench observed.
"See how insinuating is the subject of this programme that Muslims have infiltrated the services and this puts the examinations of UPSC under scanner without any factual basis," said the bench.
"Such insidious charges also put a question mark on the UPSC exams. Aspersions have been cast on UPSC. Such allegations without any factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programs be allowed in a free society," it said.
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.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the bench said, "We are not suggesting some kind of censorship on media but there should be some kind of self-regulation in media".
"The point is this 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, adding, "Electronic media has become more powerful than print media and we have not been supportive of pre-broadcast ban".
Mehta told the bench that there should be some kind of self-regulation but the freedom of journalist has to be maintained.
He also referred to some foreign judgements on freedom of speech and expression.
The bench told Divan, "We expect some kind of restraint from your client (Sudarshan TV)".
Senior advocate Anoop G Chaudhary, appearing for the petitioner, said that the Delhi High Court had referred the matter to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry but the ministry 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.
On August 28, the top court had refused to impose pre-broadcast ban on Sudarshan TV from telecasting 'Bindas Bol' programme, whose promo claimed that the channel was all set to broadcast a 'big expose on conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service'.
It had issued notice to the Centre, the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association and Sudarshan News on a plea filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan who has raised grievance pertaining to the programme.
The apex court had said that prima facie, the petition raises significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights. The Delhi High Court, on September 11, had declined to stay the telecast of the series of programmes.