The Supreme Court on Friday, 18 September, resumed its hearing of the petition against Sudarshan News editor Suresh Chavhanke’s ‘UPSC Jihad’ show, with Chavhanke’s lawyer Shyam Divan defending the content of his controversial show.
Divan will also argue for the court to remove the stay it has ordered against the broadcast of any further shows on the subject – the court’s interim injunction against any further shows passed during the previous hearing remains in force for now.
The hearing was supposed to take place on Thursday, but the affidavit by Chavhanke and Sudharshan News was filed too late for the other parties to prepare rejoinders. Even Divan hadn’t had too much time to prepare with it, and certain videos and clips which were supposed to have been submitted by other members of Sudarshan’s legal team had not been provided to the court as yet.
Further hearings, including of rejoinders to Chavhanke’s defence and interventions by the News Broadcasters Association, will be heard on Monday, 21 September onwards.
The bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph are hearing the petition filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan against the broadcast of Chavhanke’s show, as well as several intervention applications filed by various parties, including Jamia students and several retired civil servants.
During the previous substantive hearing on 15 September, the same bench of the apex court had directed Sudarshan News to not broadcast any further content relating to its claims of ‘UPSC Jihad’ till further orders. This was because the court found that the objective of the show, prima facie, was to “vilify the Muslim community”, and that the four episodes of the series broadcast till then included information which was “palpably erroneous.”
The channel and Chavhanke were asked to submit their responses to the original petition as well as the intervention applications, several of which sought injunctions on the broadcast of further episodes of the show.
CHAVHANKE & SUDARSHAN NEWS’ RESPONSE
In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court before Thursday’s hearing, Suresh Chavhanke asked the court to remove its injunction and defended the shows broadcast by him.
Chavhanke has defended his shows as “investigative journalism” and an attempt to make the public and the government aware of “anti-national and anti-social activities and the modus operandi.”
He argues that he used the the heading “UPSC Jehad” for his recent ‘Bindas Bol’ episodes because it has come to his knowledge through various sources that:
“Zakat Foundation has received funds from various terror-linked organizations. It is not that all contributors to the Zakat Foundation are terror-linked. However, some of the contributors are linked to organizations or are organizations that fund extremist groups. The funds received by the Zakat Foundation, in turn, are used to support aspirants for IAS, IPS or UPSC.”
According to him, he “came across certain alarming facts to the effect that certain organizations working outside India have hatched a conspiracy to infiltrate the bureaucracy” and hence prepared his story.
He says that he does not have any ill will against any community or any individual, and that he does not oppose the selection of any meritorious candidate in the civil services.
He has annexed several documents which he believes back up his claims of links between office bearers of the Zakat Foundation of India and people with connections to terrorist organisations. He has also sought to defend his claims about Muslims having a higher upper age limit and more attempts to apply for the civil services examinations by saying he was talking about Muslim OBCs, not Muslims in general.
The affidavit also includes details of slides and clips presented during the 4 episodes he has broadcast, which include comments by Muslim leaders about how young Muslims should join the civil services. It is unclear how this backs up claims of infiltration or ‘Jihad’.
He concludes his affidavit by saying that there already exists a mechanism for complaints and grievance redressal for the petitioners and intervenors who have a problem with his show under Section 22 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 and the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994, outside of this petition to the Supreme Court.
WHAT HAS BEEN ARGUED IN THE CASE THUS FAR?
Chavhanke’s affidavit came after affidavits from the Centre and the NBA, which had filed their responses to the petition on Wednesday night.
The Centre has suggested that there is no need to look into the creation of any new standards regarding electronic media when it comes to content like this based on just one show by Sudarshan news and that there already exist sufficient regulations for this. The I&B Ministry in fact has suggested to the court that if it is considering regulation of media, they should first consider regulation of “digital media” including websites, social media, etc, as these have potentially even greater reach than mainstream electronic media like TV channels.
The NBA has argued that there exist sufficient self-regulation standards and mechanisms, of which it is one part, and that a separate bench of the Supreme Court is already looking into some of these issues of regulation, so there is no need for this bench of the apex court to examine the issues separately.
The petitioners and intervenors, on the other hand, have argued that Chavhanke’s shows on this issue of ‘UPSC Jihad’, which claim attempts to ‘infiltrate’ the civil services by Muslims, amount to hate speech and therefore need to be restricted.
They have suggested the need for guidelines and enforceable standards to regulate such speech on TV channels, something the bench headed by Justice Chandrachud had already said it wanted to look into on the very first hearing in this case back on 28 August, and at the previous hearing.
During the previous hearing, the judges had been taken through the contents of the shows already broadcast by Chavhanke and the social media posts and promos put out about the series, and said that these amounted to an “insidious attempt to malign an entire community.” The judges had noted the false statements and tenor of the content, terming it “rabid” and a “disservice to the nation.”
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)