Sudarshan TV Case – Firoz Iqbal Khan v. Union of India & Ors. (UPSC Jihad Case)

Supreme Court of India

Name of the caseFiroz Iqbal Khan v. Union of India & Ors.
CitationWRIT PETITION [CIVIL] NO. 956 OF 2020
Year of the case2020 (September 15)
PetitionerFIROZ IQBAL KHAN
RespondentUNION OF INDIA & ORS.
BenchJustice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice K.M Joseph
Important sections/ ArticlesArticle 32 and Article 19(1) of Indian constitutionRule 6 of Cable and Television Network (Regulation) Rules.Section 19 and 20 of Cable and Television Network (Regulation) Act.
Acts involvedCable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995

Abstract

On September 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of India looked at the plea for the pre-broadcast ban on the show that has been aired by Sudarshan TV on “UPSC jihad.” It stated in the petition that the said show promoted hate speech against the Muslim community and framed the religious minority as being involved in terror-activities. The channel has taken a stand by highlighting Article 19(1) of the constitution as a defense.

Introduction

Being the fourth pillar of democracy, the media has its obligation to serve the citizens, irrespective of any unfair prejudice based on caste or class or religious division in society. Its primary role is to give “voice to the voiceless” through fair reporting and unbiased mirroring of the status quo. The fair practice of journalism and news media can only be achieved by means of constitutional freedom of speech and expression. However, freedom of journalism is not explicitly granted in Article 19(1) of the constitution. It was held in the cases of Romesh Thapar v. State of Madras and Brij Bhushan v. The State of Delhi that the freedom of the press is the key ingredient of the fundamental right to free speech and expression. In this case, there was a clash between two forces namely the right to free speech and duty to restrict hatred speech. 

Background and Facts of the case

The show ‘Bindas Bol’ was about to be aired by the channel named Sudarshan TV on the series of UPSC jihad. On the 28th of August 2020, a writ petition was filed by the petitioner before the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of Indian constitution. This Article empowers the Apex court to grant directions for the execution of infringed rights, which is bestowed by the constitution. The petition was filed on the grounds of violation of fundamental right by anticipating that the said show is going to spread hatred against Muslim community, on the basis of forty nine second promotional clip (promo). The promo contains some disparaging contents which interrogate the increased percentage of Muslim community entering into the civil services. The primary cause for the petition filed before Apex Court is to order interlocutory injunction on the pre-broadcast show. But the Court refused to issue the same on the basis of the unverified promo video.

In the meantime, the High Court of Delhi has issued a stay order to broadcast the proposed show after hearing the petition filed by a few students including the alumni of Jamia Millia Islamia. After hearing the plea, the Delhi High Court directed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to overlook whether there was any violation of programme code under the Cable Television Network Act 1995. Since then, four episodes have been telecasted after the concerned ministry and it has been ensured that there are no violations of the programme code with a caveat that the programme should abide by the law. Despite the on-going issues, the channel has broadcast those defamatory episodes.

In those episodes, Suresh Chavhanke, the chief editor of Sudarshan TV, as well as the anchor claimed that the Muslim community is infiltrating the civil services by cracking the UPSC exams. It also questioned the funds received by several Muslim foundations specifically, the Zakat foundation connecting with terror-linked organizations. The remaining episodes are planned to broadcast from 15th to 20th September. After several intervention applications were filed, this case again came up before the Supreme Court on 15th September 2020.

Issues considered by the court

  • Whether or not the said show is promoting hate speech against a particular religion?
  • Has the obligation of journalism to depict the reality to the people been overused by the channel?
  • Whether or not the apex court should issue an order for a pre-broadcast injunction to the remaining episodes of the show?
  • Does the channel violate any provisions of Cable and Television Network (Regulation) Act?
  • Was the constitutional right to free speech and expression violated by the respondent?

Related provisions

Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian constitution is referred to whenever any issues related to journalism and free speech arise. The said Article will play a key role in determining the present case. The right explicitly granted by this Article is freedom of speech and expression. But it is not absolute and might be subjected to some reasonable restrictions mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

Rule 6 of Cable and Television Network (Regulation) Rules

This Rule of the programme code, mandates that no programme should be carried in the cable service which is likely to (e) provoke violence, or (d) contains any defamatory content or disseminate false or half-truths or (c) intends to attack any religious communities.

Section 19 of the Cable and Television Network (Regulation) Act gives the power to restrict the transmission of certain programmes, when authorities think that such content of the programmes is likely to disturb the public tranquility by means of promoting enmity on the grounds of religion, linguistic race and so on.

Section 20 of the Cable and Television Network (Regulation) Act empowers the central government to prohibit the operation of a cable television network if it appears to be a threat to public order, national integrity, or sovereignty of the nation.

Arguments Advanced

Petitioner’s arguments

The said channel has tried to depict the concerned Muslim community people as trying to infiltrate in civil services and also vilified the entire Muslim community by alleging them to be involved in terror activities. It has alleged that the channel did make a fake claim as, while the maximum age limit for general candidates is 32 years, whereas, for Muslims, it is 35 years. Further, nine attempts are allowed for Muslims, but for Hindus, it is only six attempts. By disseminating this kind of misinformation, the Sudarshan channel defamed and incited hate speech towards the particular religion. Hence, the status quo needs alteration made to the previous standpoint of Apex Court as not to issue an order to a pre-telecast ban of the programme on UPSC jihad.

Arguments of the Respondent

There shall be no alteration in position from the decision on 28th august 2020, when the Apex Court refused to issue a pre-broadcast injunction. The respondent maintained the defense on the grounds of the granted constitutional Right to free speech and expression and also mentioned that it is the primary duty of every journalist to disseminate bona fide information to the public. The “Bindas Bol” program is based on fact-based investigations into the said organizations and it indicates the involvement of foreign funds.

Judgment

The honorable Supreme Court of India in its Judgment held that the channel has restrained from telecasting upcoming episodes of the show, which have been aired earlier, with the same title or other title or caption. Before issuing this order, the bench constituted of three judges, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Indu Malhotra, and Justice K.M Joseph has made the following observations:

  • It appears to the Court that the prime intent of the said programme is to disparage and vilify the Muslim community by questioning the increased percentage of people belongs to the Muslim community in civil services and calling it “infiltration.” “It is a matter of joy for the nation that Muslims are being selected in the UPSC exams. But you are running a show to run them down” opined the justice, K.M Joseph.
  • Further, the Court said that in the name of fact-based investigations the channel could not target or accuse any particular community. Being the largest democratic society, all the existing religions in India should be cohesive with each other if not, the nation cannot survive. “India is a melting pot of civilizations, cultures, religions, and languages. Any attempt to vilify a religious community must be viewed with grave disfavor by this Court as the custodian of constitutional values. Its duty to enforce constitutional values demands nothing less” held the court.
  • The Court also opined that, while concerning the constitutional right of free speech and expression, the constitutional duty is to give equal importance to both the right to free speech and the dignity of the minority. It is not to be utilized as a tool to spread hate speech. The real problem arises when the entire community is accused of conspiracy.
  • On addressing the petitioner’s statement regarding fake claims made by the channel, the Court said that there is no relaxation either in the number of attempts permissible or maximum age limit specifically for the Muslim community in civil services.
  • The Court has highlighted the principles of programme code under the Cable and Television Networks (Regulation) Rules. Based on Rule 6(1) (c) and (d), the Court mentioned the need for standards which should be abided by the said channel.
  • Further, it discussed the regulations of electronic media and formulation self-regulation and specific standards for media.

Conclusion

Even though initially, the Court has denied issuing a pre-telecast ban for the show, which explicitly framed the community of Muslim people as infiltrating in UPSC services and also, a derogatory representation was made towards the Muslim community by addressing alumni of Jamia Milia Islamia as ‘Jamia ke Jihadi’. The subsequent issue of a pre-broadcast injunction on telecasting the show can be substantiated since Section 153-A of the Indian penal code penalizes the deeds which promote enmity or provoke communal violence between different groups. 

Further, one cannot claim the constitutional right of free speech and expression on the grounds of promoting hate speech. Fundamental rights are not absolute. While concentrating on Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, as mentioned earlier, reasonable restrictions on the same are given in Article 19(2). Even journalism is not absolute in India; the journalist is not conferred with any special Rights. Regardless, the primary obligation of any media is to make sure that even the inner parts of the society are made aware of the status quo and cognizance of people about government policies. The media should perform its fundamental duty of journalism as a fair portrayer of the current state of affairs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. Does this increasing conflict between freedom of speech and promoting hate speech need to be resolved by the government?
  2. What was the defense taken by Sudarshan TV against the allegations?
  3. What are the Statements and arguments that were put forward by the petitioner?  
  4. Should self-regulation be taken against channels?
  5. What is the importance of Article 19(1) and Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India in this case?

References

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