I &B Ministry’s warning to Channel for comments on PM Modi; Delhi HC seeks reply
Sathiyam TV, a Tamil news channel has approached the Delhi High Court seeking to quash an order passed by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting containing a “warning” to the channel for having broadcast content critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The matter came up for admission today before Justice VP.Vaish. The Court issued notice and asked the respondent to file the reply within 4 weeks.
The warning was administered by the Ministry pursuant to issuance of a notice asking the channel as to why action ought not be taken against it for contravening the provisions of the Uplinking/Downlinking Guidelines, the Programme Code and the terms and conditions of the permission granted and the provisions of section 20 of the Cable Televisions (Regulation) Act.
The ‘warning’ was issued to the channel by the I&B Ministry for broadcasting a Biblical prayer and discussion show titled “Ungal Aseervatha Neram – Your Blessing Time” in December 2014 which allegedly contained statements from a religious preacher tarnishing the image of the Prime Minister. According to the show cause notice issued by the I&B Ministry, the prime Minister was referred to as a “dreadful man”.
The ‘warning” issued by the I&B Ministry also took into account a programme aired on the channel titled, “Paarthathum Padithathum – What you saw, and what you read” on December 9, 2014 wherein certain statements by Ghulam Nabi Azad against Prime Minister Modi at an election rally in Jammu and Kashmir was broadcast. The statement was allegedly to the effect that “to succeed in politics you need to have the ability to convert a false statement in to true and above all make people believe.”
On December 16, 2014, the Petitioner which owns the channel received a notice issued by the Respondents asking the channel to show cause as to why action as per the provisions of Uplinking/Downlinking Guidelines, the Programme Code and the terms and conditions of the permission granted and the provisions of section 20 of the Cable Televisions (Regulation) Act should not be taken against it. The basis of the notice was a purported complaint against alleged contraventions in the abovementioned two programs telecast on December 9, 2014.
The impugned final warning order states, “Such statements being broadcast from a religious preacher appeared to be targeting a political leader and could potentially give rise to a communally sensitive situation and incite the public to violent tendencies which may not be conducive to law and order situation”.
Assailing the final order which was passed on May 12,2015, as an “act of political censorship” the petitioners contend that the said order apart from containing factual inaccuracies- the case of the channel is that no such statements against the Prime Minster as alleged have been made- is contrary to the Fundamental Right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and 25 of the Constitution of India and “is also a dubious and incorrect interpretation of the relevant statute and regulations, i.e. the Cable Televisions (Regulation) Act, 1995 and the Rules made there under with the motive of seeking to wrongly implicate Petitioner.”
With respect to the show, “Paarthathum Padithathum – What you saw, and what you read” the channel has sought to clarify that rather than the statement, “to succeed in politics you need to have the ability to convert a false statement in to true and above all make people believe”, the show contained the statement that, “That’s the talent. To make headway in politics you must know how to convince people”.
With respect to the show, “Ungal Aseervatha Neram – Your Blessing Time”, the channel says that the purported statement, does not translate from Tamil to English as stated in the Order. There is no specific person who is referred to as a, “satanic person” rather the statement is, “Lord, I pray that you lift children from those with wicked intentions and bless your children, Father”.
Further, the petitioners contend that the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) set up to consider the matter failed to consider that any comments made in the broadcast of “Paarthathum Padithathum – What you saw and what you read” were on the basis of newspaper reports. “The factual accuracy of these newspaper reports was
never in doubt. To the knowledge of the Petitioners, the comments in the reports have neither been controverted by a contrary factual assertion nor have any legal proceedings been preferred against the underlying statements. Hence, any discussion of such factual statements constitutes fair comments and a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution of India.”
The petitioners have contended that the impugned order is a form of ‘political censorship” “which would prevent the free and frank discussion on political matters, which are otherwise legal. By the mere unsubstantiated reference to a tendency to cause disturbance to law and order, content, which is legal, cannot be made illegal given”
Additionally, the petitioners have raised the ground that the said May 12 Order improves on the notice to show cause dated December 16, 2015 and inserts additional grounds of purported violations, and that the same has been “done without providing the Petitioners an opportunity to put forward a defense and the opportunity of a hearing.” Elaborating this ground the channel claims that the show cause notice dated December 16, 2014 makes a statement that the biblical show, “refers to the Prime Minister as a dreadful man” whereas the Order dated May 12, 2015 improves on this reasoning given there is no implicit or express reference by name or position by merely and generally stating that they amount to, “targeting a political leader”.
The petitioners contend that the impugned final order is against the judgment of the
the Hon’ble Supreme Court in, S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) 2 SCC 574, that (SCC, p. 599) wherein it was expressly held that Open criticism of government policies and operations are not a ground for restricting expression. The SC had held thus:
“Freedom of expression which is legitimate and constitutionally protected cannot be held to ransom by an intolerant group of people. The fundamental freedom under Article 19(1)(a) can be reasonably restricted only for the purposes mentioned in Article 19(2) and the restriction must be justified on the anvil of necessity and not the quicksand of convenience or expediency. Open criticism of government policies and operations are not a ground for restricting expression. We must practice tolerance to the views of others. Intolerance is as much dangerous to democracy as to the person himself.” (Emphasis applied)
Advocates, Robin David, Partner, Mr. Chitranshul Sinha , Sr. Associate, Dua Associates and Mr. Apar Gupta, were appeared for the petitioners