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Sudarshan TV case: SC sends out message that country cannot survive with divisive agenda

TPE Correspondent

New Delhi September 19th

In the Sudarshan TV case, Supreme Court has sent out a ‘message to media’ and said the country cannot survive with divisive agenda. Supreme Court also pulled up the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the National Broadcasting Association (NBA) over alleged inaction in the case.

The issue is fundamentally political and we should not pretend that fine legal distinctions will solve the issue. The big lesson of the last two decades is that over-reliance on legal instruments to solve fundamentally social and political problems often backfires.

Taking strong objection to the programme by Sudarshan TV that claims to expose a “conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service,” the Supreme Court on Friday said a message must be sent to the media that “a particular community cannot be targeted” in the name of investigative journalism and that the “country cannot survive with such an agenda”.

Supreme Court, which has restrained Sudarshan TV from broadcasting remaining the episodes of its show, also pulled up the Centre and the National Broadcasting Association (NBA) for their alleged inaction and sought suggestions for strengthening the “self-regulating mechanism for electronic media”.

During the hearing, advocate Farasat, appearing for the petitioners, argued, “All these episodes are objectively hate speech and nothing else. We will like to pursue the court that it is indeed the constitutional court’s duty to order an injunction in this particular case.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the channel, defended the programme and sought vacation of the stay on its telecast saying it was not against the entry of members of the community. Justice Chandrachud said, “We have heard Mr Divan and we have given an opportunity to Sudarshan News to file an affidavit saying what they propose to do.”

Appearing for an NGO, Shahrukh Alam asked the court, “Does a deliberate propaganda deserve rebuttal? The affidavit filed here does not lay down at all what is shown.”

To this, Justice Chandrachud said, “It is easy for us to intervene but the fear is can we intervene in all cases like these? Question is creating a systemic framework for judicial intervention.”

Advocate Nisha Bhambani, appearing for NBA, said, “We also make channels apologise in prime time. We are not toothless. Several SC and HC judgments commend our regulations.”

Replying to Bhambani, Justice Chandrachud asked, “Do you watch TV,” to which the lawyer replied in the assertive. Then the judge further asked, “Are you able to control it?” The NBA advocate said, “It has improved significantly but many are not our members.”

Justice Chandrachud told NBA, “Come back to us on a method to strengthen the hands of NBA so that you have a higher regulation. You have a few members and thus implementation of your regulations are not strong. You need to tell us how it can be strengthened.” Senior advocate Preetesh Kapur, appearing for the Press Council of India, said, “We have a strong code of conduct and newspapers have exercised far more restraint than electronic media. Our code of conduct can be looked into.”

Justice Chandrachud said, “We would like SG Mehta so that government can think of something so that there is no outside interference with electronic media and that self-regulation is strengthened.” During the hearing, ASG Raju cited a judgment and read out… “Journalists are not professionals, for a person to be a professional, there has to be a relationship with a client.”

Justice Lalit then said, “Journalists are not professionals you say. But how do we say that an activity will be a profession and another will not be? Turn to entry 26 of the Constitution of the Concurrent List which says “Legal, Medical & other professionals”. The court has asked Suresh Chavhanke, Editor-in-Chief of Sudarshan TV, to file an affidavit by Monday expressing his bonafide and voluntary decision on not using certain things in the programme.

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