The Controversy related to the recent Tanishq advertisement showing an inter-faith marriage, has reached the doors of Delhi High Court as a plea has been moved in the HC, with a prayer to regulate news channels with regard to broadcasting and publishing content based communal disharmony and hate speech.
The plea specifically seeks, that direction be issued to authorities to Come up with a mechanism to check contents of news agencies which are spreading hatred amongst the communities, instigative, separatist, hate-filled, divisive, against the society at large and against the spirit of Union of India.
The plea states that the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News and anchor of the show, Sh. Suresh Chavhanke mentioned in his show, that "love jihad is now being promoted by the way of advertisements and to quote him he said 'advertisement jihad' and an insidious attempt has been made to insinuate that the community is involved in a planned conspiracy to infiltrate the advertisement agency".
The Plea moved by an Advocate Asghar Khan states that,
"It can be clearly inferred from the advertisement that the purpose of the said advertisement was to showcase the spirit of unity and brotherhood amongst these two religious' groups. However, Sudarshan TV in its 8 pm show 'Bindas Bol' dated 12.10.2020 made their best attempts to incite hatred amongst above said religious group."
Significantly, in this context, the plea seeks issuance of the writ of Mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order or direction of this Hon'ble Court to the Respondent(s), to ensure censoring of news channels that preach communal disharmony and hate speech.
Notably, the Petitioner has impleaded the Ministry Of Information And Broadcasting Government Of India (Respondent No. 1), Press Council of India (PCI) [Respondent No. 2], News Broadcasters Association (NBA) [Respondent No. 3] and Sudharshan News Channel (through Suresh Chavhanke, Editor in Chief of the channel) [Respondent No. 4] as respondents
The Petitioner-advocate Asghar Khan says in his plea that the Programme Code under the Cable and Television Networks (Regulation) Rules stipulate that no programme should be carried which "contains an attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes".
Further, it has been averred in the plea that the programme of Sudarshan TV violated the Programme Code enumerated under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, together with the Code of Ethics and News Broadcasting Standards Regulations.
The expression of views derogatory to a particular community has a divisive potential, together with free speech, there are other values which need to be balanced and preserved, it said.
Importantly, the plea states,
"That using the expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to delegitimise group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members. It can have a social impact. Hate speech lays the ground-work for later, broad attacks on vulnerable that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide. Hate speech also impacts a protected group's ability to respond to the substantive ideas under debate, thereby placing a serious barrier to their full participation in our democracy."
The plea claims that the broadcast (by Sudarshan TV) falls in the realm of hate speech. "Based on the programmes which have been aired by Sudarshan News Channel, promotional videos have been placed in the public realm on their Twitter handle in pursuance of which a large number of persons have responded with responses which border on hatred towards the Muslim community", the plea maintains.
The Content of the Plea further states:
* That the act of Sudarshan News Channel is "completely uncontrolled" and is rampantly tarnishing the reputations of a particular community and spreading venomous hatred and violence.
* That hate speech stands directly in contrast to the responsible speech by abusing the notion of freedom of speech that is granted under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India
* That such boycott violates the spirit of fraternity amongst all people in the country, which is one of the objectives of our Constitution and set out in the Preamble.
* That such forms of social boycott amount to an unfortunate practice of untouchability and violates Article 17 of the Constitution of India. This is also violative of the right to life and livelihood guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
* That the derogatory publication and broadcast by Respondent No. 4 have promoted communal disharmony and ill will against members of a single community and are severely prejudicial to the maintenance of communal harmony.
Prayers of the Plea
The plea seeks direction to the authorities to form guidelines to include restrictions as envisaged under Article 19 of the Constitution and orders of the Supreme Court to ensure that media does not abuse the freedom of speech and expression.
It further seeks direction that media house report only true facts and not opinions and be responsible for what they are publishing. They must also be made liable to submit credible evidence to the competent court of law for the allegations made by them or allegations made using their platform.
It also seeks direction to the authorities commanding them to make a mechanism to check contents and advertisements which are spreading hatred amongst the communities and are against the society at large and the spirit of Union of India.
The plea seeks to declare the alleged hate/ derogatory speeches made by Sudarshan News as violative of Articles 14 (Equality before Law), 19 (Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech) and 21 (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution.
It has also prayed for the imposition of 'gag order restraining the orator or author of hate or derogatory speeches made on the lines of religion from addressing the public anywhere within the country till the disposal of the criminal proceeding initiated against him.
As mentioned, the plea has been moved by Advocate/Petitioner Asghar Khan, along with Lawyer Abdul Tahir Khan and assisted by Anubhav Agrawal (Law student).
[With inputs from PTI ]