Attempt To Vilify A Religious Community Must Be Viewed With Grave Disfavour, Says Supreme Court
The Supreme Court stands in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

Attempt To Vilify A Religious Community Must Be Viewed With Grave Disfavour, Says Supreme Court

The Supreme Court restrained Sudarshan News from broadcasting episodes of a show on Muslim representation in civil service that petitioners alleged amounted to hate speech.

A bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice KM Joseph noted that prima facie it appears that the intent and the purpose of the episodes is to "vilify the Muslim community". The court passed the injunction as an interim order and will take up the case next for hearing on Thursday.

The Supreme Court had declined to pass any injunction when the case first came up for hearing on Aug. 28 after the the promo of the show, called Bindaas Bol, was released. The top court had then said that it has to be circumspect in imposing a prior restraint on publication or the airing of views based on an unverified transcript of a 49-second clip.

The show pertains to Muslims entering India's prestigious civil service by clearing the exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.

In Tuesday's hearing, the petitioners argued that the content of the episodes which have since been broadcast constitute hate speech against Muslims and vilifies the members of the community. The petitioners argued that the restraint exercised by the court in the pre-broadcast stage now needs a change.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the central government, told the court that broader questions from the perspective of regulations have arisen during this case which will include not just the electronic media but others forms as well. Mehta told the court the government had sent a letter on Sept. 9 to the channel stating that if there was a breach of the Programme Code, the government would consider whether a case has been made out for recourse to its powers under the law.

Sudarshan News TV, on the other hand, argued that their show was an investigative exercise and raises issues pertaining to national security and indicated the involvement of foreign funding.

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for Sudarshan News TV, opposed the request for an interim injunction.

'Insidious Attempt'

While the Supreme Court declined to grant an injunction before the episodes went on air, today it went ahead and stopped the broadcast of further episodes. The court observed that there has been a change of circumstances after the first four episodes have been broadcast.

An insidious attempt has been made to insinuate that the community is involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services. Several statements in the episodes, which have been drawn to the attention of the court are not just palpably erroneous but have been made in wanton disregard of the truth.
Supreme Court Order

The bench noted that it is duty bound to ensure the compliance to the rules of the programme code which among others include that no programme should be carried which “contains attack on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes”.

‘’India is a melting pot of civilizations, cultures, religions and languages. Any attempt to vilify a religious community must be viewed with grave disfavour by this court as the custodian of constitutional values," the court order said. "Its duty to enforce constitutional values demands nothing less," the court said, barring the telecast of the remaining show under the same or a different caption until further orders.

After the written order was passed, the top court orally observed that it is thinking of setting up a five-member panel that would suggest standards for electronic media. The committee, if constituted, will comprise members of distinguished stature from all walks of life.

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