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"A Balance Is To Be Drawn Between Free Speech And the Dignity Of A Community In This Case": Justice Chandrachud In Sudarshan TV Case

Sanya Talwar
21 Sep 2020 12:31 PM GMT
A Balance Is To Be Drawn Between Free Speech And the Dignity Of A Community In This Case: Justice Chandrachud In Sudarshan TV Case
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"If it was a balance between free speech and the dignity of an individual, we can tell him to go file a civil suit. But here, the balance is to be drawn between free speech and a community": Justice Chandrachud said.
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Justice DY Chandrachud made some noteworthy oral remarks in the ongoing case against Sudarshan TV for telecast of a show "Bindas Bol" earmarking the tag line "UPSC Jihad", touted as an expośe on the alleged infiltration of muslims in the civil services.

"What does a court prohibit in an injunctive order? We can't say don't have a man in a green t-shirt and beard etc. .. now this will go into specifics. We can't go too specific, we can't go too far - so as to effect 19(1)(a)," said Justice Chandrachud while hearing arguments of behalf of Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing on behalf of students from Jamia Millia Islamia University

If it was a balance between free speech and the dignity of an individual, we can tell him to go file a civil suit. But here, the balance is to be drawn between free speech and a community: Justice Chandrachud said. 

Farasat was arguing in the context of how the show, hosted by Editor-in-chief of Sudarshan TV News, Suresh Charvhanke made vilifying insinuations against the Muslim community and their alleged "conspiracy" to overtake the bureaucracy, pointing to "hate speech".

He made submissions stating that there was a pertinent need to continue to the injunctive orders, already issued by the Court on a prior date against the telecast of the show.

Justice Chandrachud also introspected on the issue of what must really be the nature of an injunction and whether, if effectuated further, it could delve into "protected speech", specifically under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Justice Chandrachud: "The issue is - What should be the nature of an injunction? Whether it should be a blanket injunction and if the court does issue it, would it also injunct protected speech or should the court restrict him only to a certain extent?"

Further, when Farasat read out excerpts of transcripts of the show and justified the element of "hate speech" in the statements, Justice Chandrachud asked,

"To what extent is this an attack on ZFI and to what extent is this an attack on the muslims?"

Then, he smiled and said , "I don't know who will even watch this?"

Apropos this, the Supreme Court Judge added, "If it is an attack on ZFI, then I don't know if the SC should spend so much time on this. A part of this program is an attack on Zakat Foundation. Whoever doesn't want to watch it, may not. Go and read a novel baba... turn off the tv".

While segregating elements of the show that may or may not amount to "free speech" under Article 19(1)(a), Justice Chandrachud remarked that there may be parts of the program which may be relatable to Journalistic views.

"The editor-in-chief says "there is foreign funding in this organisation. Surely public interest attracted then.... he may be right, he may be wrong" - Justice Chandrachud, Supreme Court

Next, to elaborate on the issue of whether Zakat Foundation was being vilified and criticised, Justice Chandrachud said that the Zakat Foundation may well file a defamation suit if it was of the view that it is being defamed. "Hate speech is for a targeted group," he added.

Following Farasat's arguments, the Court briefly heard Advocate J Sai Deepak, appearing on behalf of three intervenors - OPIndia, Indic Collective and Upword Foundation, stating that the court must also consider the "chilling effect" that the injunctive order is bound to have, even if it is limited to a specific episode.

To this Justice Chandrachud replied, "You are absolutely right, spot on. We however, in this case have a group of citizens here who are a part of an amorphous community, not about an individual".

(A bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph was hearing the plea which alleged that the show 'Bindas Bol' hosted by Suresh Chavhanke, the Editor-in-Chief of Sudarshan News, was communalizing the entry of Muslims into the civil services).

On September 15, the top court had stayed the telecast of the show after making a prima facie observation that 'the object intent and the purpose of the show was to vilify the Muslim community'.

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