Centre Sends Notice to Sudarshan News, Next SC Hearing on 5 Oct

Sudarshan News has to explain how its ‘UPSC Jihad’ show does not violate the programme code.

Updated
Law
3 min read

The Supreme Court on Wednesday 23 September agreed to postpone its hearing on Sudarshan News editor Suresh Chavhanke’s ‘UPSC Jihad’ show, after the Centre informed the apex court that it had sent a show-cause notice to the channel over possible violations of the programme code.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph that the show-cause notice had been sent by the I&B Ministry, giving the channel till 28 September to explain how its four episodes alleging a conspiracy by Muslims to ‘infiltrate’ the bureaucracy were not a violation of the code. They will also have to explain why action should not be taken against them under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995.

Mehta therefore suggested that the court take the matter up again only after the 28th.

As most of the petitioners and intervenors agreed to this, the court has deferred the matter till Monday, 5 October.

Advocate Shahrukh Alam, appearing for one of the intervenors, had argued that there were continuing violations of fundamental rights involved, and therefore the matter should not be postponed.

Advocate Gautam Bhatia, representing one of the other intervenors, noted that the court was looking at some of the bigger issues on regulation of hate speech and so arguments on this should continue regardless of the court’s decision. Justice Chandrachud agreed this would be the case.

The court also clarified that its interim order preventing any further broadcasts by the channel on the issue, passed on 15 September, would continue to be in force.

The court was supposed to be hearing arguments presented today from the petitioner and other intervenors as to why the broadcast of the show should continue to be restrained.

This follows arguments at the last hearing on 21 September by advocate Shadan Farasat, for a group Jamia students, where he had made a case for why the contents of the four episodes released thus far did amount to hate speech, and the court’s consideration of an affidavit by the channel.

WHO HAS ARGUED WHAT SO FAR?

During the course of the matter till now, here’s what has been said by the parties and the judges:

  • The petitioner (advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan) and intervenors including Jamia students and retired civil servants, have argued that the contents of the show till now amount to hate speech, and that the failure of the government to take action against Sudarshan News so far shows how the system of self-regulation is insufficient. You can find details of how they have backed up this claim and why they think the court can step in, through the arguments by Shadan Farasat for the Jamia students here.
  • The Centre has suggested that there is a sufficient system in place for self-regulation and that the government can also take action for violation of the programme codes. They have also said that if the court wants to get into the question of regulation of hate speech, they should start with ‘web based digital media’, rather than TV news. You can read more about this here.
  • Justices Chandrachud, Joseph and Malhotra raised a number of concerns over the contents of the show themselves, including the language, tenor and offensive imagery, and said that targeting and tarring a community could take a show from free speech into the realms of hatred. You can read about what the judges said, including about how the News Broadcasters Association is “toothless”, here.
  • Sudarshan News, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan, had argued that what they were doing amounted to ‘fact-based’ and ‘investigative’ journalism. They have argued that there was an issue of public interest that they needed to deal with, regarding the funding of the Zakat Foundation, hence the need for the show. You can read about their defence of the show here.
  • In addition to the intervenors arguing against the show, interventions have also been filed by right-leaning organisations like OpIndia and Indic Collective, as well as Madhu Kishwar, arguing that the court should not be looking into this issue as it is for the central government, through Parliament-backed legislation, to regulate impermissible speech.
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