One day before the Supreme Court will hear the Sudarshan News 'UPSC Jihad' case, the Centre has finally submitted an affidavit setting out its position on the controversial series of shows – but has done nothing more than caution the channel.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting was supposed to file an affidavit with the apex court on 27 October, explaining whether the government found the series of shows by Sudarshan TV editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke to violate the Programme Code under the Cable TV Rules 1994.
The Supreme Court’s stay on the broadcast of the episodes from 15 September remains in place at this time, and so further episodes of the show cannot be broadcast till the apex court lifts the restriction.
Not in Good Taste: I&B Ministry
In the affidavit about the episodes of the show which had been broadcast thus far (which has been filed over 20 days later) the I&B Ministry has said that: "The Ministry finds that they are not in good taste, offensive and has a likelihood of promoting communal attitudes".
However, while the ministry has found that the "tone and tenor" episodes, as they were broadcast, indicated that the channel had "breached the Programme Code", no action has been ordered against the channel at this time. This comes even though the I&B Ministry had specifically directed the channel to ensure that the show would not do so before the first episodes aired.
Instead, the Ministry's order says that it,
“after examining all facts and circumstances of the case and balancing the fundamental rights of the broadcaster, hereby “CAUTIONS” Sudarshan TV Channel Ltd. to be careful in future. It is further directed that if any violation of the Programme Code is found in future, stricter penal action would be taken.”
In addition to this, the ministry has directed the channel to review the content of the future episodes of the Bindas Bol series on 'UPSC Jihad', and this is to be "suitably moderated and modified" to ensure no violations of the Programme Code, including
- offending against good taste and decency
- attacking a religion or community with content which promotes communal attitudes
- containing defamatory, falsehoods, suggestive innuendos
- incites violence or promotes anti-national attitudes
- maligns or slanders a group
- slanders a religious group
The channel is directed to make due compliance with these directions before telecast, and report what efforts have been made to this effect to the I&B Ministry immediately. The ministry also acknowledges that its order is also subject to a final judgment of the Supreme Court in the ongoing case.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra will hear the matter on Thursday, 19 November.
What Happened Earlier?
The last hearing was a brief one held on 26 October, when the Centre had been expected to inform the bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s decision regarding the broadcast of the show, having sent show-cause notices to the channel under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the order was ready, and that it would be put on record the next day, on 27 October.
The Supreme Court on 15 September had restricted the broadcast of further episodes of Chavhanke’s show on the issue, finding that its prima facie objective was to “vilify the Muslim community” and contained “palpably erroneous” information.
On 17 September, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph had expressed its concerns with the language and content of the programme, and warned that it appeared to target the entire Muslim community. Sudarshan News was asked to file a fresh affidavit explaining how they would assuage the court’s concerns.
Instead, in its additional affidavit, Sudarshan News reiterated the generic assurances it had made in its previous affidavit and devoted more space to say how Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke was shocked and pained when NDTV on 17 September 2008, had broadcast a show titled as 'Hindu Terror: Myth or Fact?'
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