The Delhi High Court has made a prima facie observation that the video clip of the controversial show proposed to be telecast by Sudarshan News TV about 'Muslim infiltration' in civil services is in violation of the program code.
After viewing the 49-second trailer clip of the proposed show, which was not disputed by the channel and its editor-in-chief Mr. Suresh Chavhanke, a bench of Justice Navin Chawla observed :
"Prima facie, I find the same to be in violation of the Programme Code set out under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act')".
The Court noted that Section 5 of the Act prohibits any person from transmitting or retransmitting, through a cable service, any programme which is not in conformity with the prescribed Programme Code.
The petitioner, a group of former and present students of Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi, had contended that the proposed program violated Rule 6 of the Programme Code which states that no program should be carried in the cable service which :
- contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes
- is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes;
- criticises, maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country
- contains anything affecting the integrity of the Nation.
Justice Chawla further noted that the Central Government has already issued a notice to the Channel and its anchor on complaints that the show was being telecast in violation of the program code.
"As the Central Government has already initiated an exercise to consider, by issuing a Notice to the respondent nos.3 and 4, whether the program in question violates the Programme Code, this Court refrains itself from making any further observations on the merits of the claim made by either party",the judge noted in the order.
Accordingly, the petition was disposed of with the following directions :
- Sudarshan News TV and Mr Chavhanke should submit their replies to the notices by September 1.
- The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should decided on its notice within 48 hours of the receip of the reply from the channel and the anchor, after giving them an opportunity of being heard.
- The Central Government should take the decision uninfluenced by any observations made by the Court.
- Either party shall be entitled to challenge the order passed by the Central Government, if aggrieved thereby, in accordance with law.
- Till such a decision is taken by the Central Government, respondents 3 and 4, shall not telecast/transmit the program 'Bindas Bol' that was scheduled to be transmitted/telecasted at August 28 at 8 PM.
While passing the directions, Justice Chawla also acknowledged that the Supreme Court had declined to stay the telecast of the show in a similar petition filed by another petitioner.
However, the judge noted that the petitioner before the SC had placed before it only a transcript of a clip of forty-nine seconds. The Supreme Court observed that the same having remained unverified, the Court has to be circumspect in imposing a prior restraint on publication or the airing of the views.
On the other hand, before the HC, the channel and its anchor did not dispute the veracity of the clip of the show's trailer.
"In the present application, however, the respondent nos.3 and 4 admit the veracity of the video clip that was played before this Court. Prima facie, I find the same to be in violation of the Programme Code set out under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act')".
The Central Government Counsel had informed the HC that a notice had been served on the channel and the anchor by the Union Ministry based on the complaints against the proposed show.
In the Supreme Court, the bench did not have an opportunity to hear the Central Government.
The HC disposed of the petition after a special sitting held on Saturday at 7 PM, when the channel moved an application seeking vacation of the stay, citing the order passed by the Supreme Court declining to stay the telecast.
The show was scheduled to be telecast on Friday (August 28) at 8 PM. Before that, the editor of the channel, Mr. Suresh Chavhanke, had shared a 48-second trailer of the show in Twitter with a hashtag #UPSCJIHAD, attracting widespread criticism even from IAS and IPS associations regarding the communalization of the entry of Muslims into all India civil services.
Based on the trailer, a group of former and present students of Jamia Milia Islamia approached the Delhi High Court yesterday, seeking a stay on the telecast on the ground that it violated the program code under the Cable TV Act(Syed Mujtaba Athar and others vs Union of India and others).
Advocate Shadan Farasat, the petitioners' counsel, played the clip before the court and submitted that the show claims that the success of Jamia Milia Islamia students in the Civil Services examination 2020 represents a "conspiracy to infiltrate the civil service by Muslims".
The Central Government Counsel appearing for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, on instructions, told the bench yesterday that several complaints were received by the Ministry against the program proposed to be telecast by Sudarshan TV and that it has issued notice to it.
In this circumstance, the single bench of the Delhi HC proceeded to stay the telecast of the program, which was scheduled at 8 PM on Friday.
Meanwhile, a similar petition was filed in the Supreme Court also, by another petitioner(Firoz Iqbal Khan). That petition was considered by a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and K M Joseph on Friday evening, almost at the same time when the other petition was being considered by the Delhi HC.
The SC, while noting that the case "raises significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights", declined to put a "pre-broadcast injunction" against the telecast of the show. The top court observed that it has to be "circumspect in imposing a prior restraint on publication or the airing of views", that too based on an "unverified transcript of a forty nine second clip".
However, the apex court expressed its inclination to consider the larger issues pertaining to free speech and said that it might appoint an amicus curiae for assistance on the next posting date, September 15.
"Prima facie, the petition raises significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights. Consistent with the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the Court will need to foster a considered a debate on the setting up of standards of self- regulation. Together with free speech, there are other constitutional values which need to be balanced and preserved including the fundamental right to equality and fair treatment for every segment of citizens", the SC observed.
In March 2019, a court in Kerala ordered Sudarshan New channel to pay a compensation of ₹50 lakh to Malabar Gold in a defamation suit, after it broadcast morphed visuals alleging the company of having celebrated Pakistani Independence Day.