The Supreme Court has posted the case relating to Sudarshan News ‘UPSC Jihad’ show to 19 November, after a brief hearing on Monday, 26 October.
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 on Tuesday, 27 October.
At the last hearing on 5 October, Mehta had informed the judges that the issue had been forwarded to an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) by the central government, which had given its recommendations on the matter on 4 October after hearing from a representative of the channel on the 1st.
The I&B Ministry had stated in a letter to the court that they needed to give Sudarshan News a second hearing to address the recommendations by the IMC, including for future programs, which was to take place at 11 am on 6 October.
The judges noted that they could not hear the matter this week as it was a ‘miscellaneous week’ at the apex court, which means it does not conduct detailed hearings on any matters.
WHAT ARE THE ISSUES AT PLAY IN THIS CASE?
The petitioner, Firoz Iqbal Khan, as well as several intervenors who have argued against the show (including a group of retired civil servants and students from Jamia MIlia Islamia University) have urged the court to continue the matter regardless of the I&B Ministry’s decision, as there are larger issues at play here, regarding the need to regulate hate speech on electronic media.
The Centre’s position is that there already exists a system to deal with this under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and the 1994 Cable TV rules, and the media’s own self-regulation mechanisms. They have submitted two affidavits to the apex court, in which they have said that if the court is going to consider setting out guidelines/regulations on hate speech in the media, they should begin with digital media, given the existing mechanisms for electronic and print media.
“As against this, there is absolutely no check on the web-based digital media. Apart from spreading venomous hatred, deliberate and intended instigation to not only cause violence but even terrorism it is also capable of indulging in tarnishing the image of individuals and institutions. The said practice is, in fact, rampant.”Centre’s affidavit dated 21 September
For its part, Sudarshan News has argued that it is doing investigative journalism, and so its show is protected as free speech.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN THE CASE TILL NOW?
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.
This stay on further broadcasts remains in place till now.
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?'
The judges were not impressed with this response, with Justice DY Chandrachud saying to Sudarshan News’ lawyer Vishnu Shankar Jain:
“We didn’t ask you to file anything about an NDTV programme. You can’t just go on shooting off your mouth because judges asked you questions during the hearing.”
Advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for the Jamia students, had made extensive arguments that the four episodes of the show that had been broadcast amounted to hate speech. Farasat contended that the content of these shows led to a violation of Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty).
“A pervasive environment of hate speech reduces a citizen’s access to Article 14. It becomes a hollow promise. Hate speech, therefore, doesn’t require incitement to violence to be a crime,” he said.
With regard to Article 21, he said that the show seeks to break down the bonds between Hindus and Muslims, just like what was done by Rwandan radio station RTLM to the relations between Hutus and Tutsis, which led to the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994. “If hate speech of this kind is permitted over time, it will lead to similar consequences,” he argued.