The Delhi High Court today restrained Sudarshan News channel and its Editor-in-Chief from telecasting a show on the “infiltration of Muslims” in the Civil Services even as the Supreme Court while hearing a similar plea albeit filed by a different petitioner refused to stay the broadcast of the same show.
A two-judge bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and K M Joseph said that the court had to be circumspect in imposing a prior restraint on publication or the airing of views on the basis of an unverified transcript of a forty nine-second clip.
“We note that under statutory provisions, competent authorities are vested with powers to ensure compliance with law, including provisions of the criminal law intended to ensure social harmony and the peaceful coexistence of all communities”, the bench said.
The petitioner, advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan said the expression of views derogatory to a particular community had the potential to be divisive. He added that the clip contained statements which were derogatory of the entry of Muslims in the civil services.
The court, thus, observed that prima facie, the petition raised significant issues bearing on the protection of constitutional rights.
“Consistent with the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the Court will need to foster a considered a debate on the setting up of standards of self- regulation. Together with free speech, there are other constitutional values which need to be balanced and preserved including the fundamental right to equality and fair treatment for every segment of citizens”, the court said.
The court issued notice to the Centre, Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association and Sudershan News. It also said it would consider appointing an amicus curiae to assist it towards a resolution which advances the protection of constitutional rights.
The matter has now been fixed for hearing on September 15.
Earlier in the day, a single-judge bench presided by Justice Navin Chawla issued a restraining order against the broadcast on the so-called “infiltration of Muslims” in the Civil Services by the Sudarshan News on a plea filed by former and current students of Jamia Millia Islamia University.
According to the plea in the High Court, the proposed broadcast along with the trailer violated the programme code set out under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, read with the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994.
Petitioners asserted that the proposed broadcast and trailer also constituted hate speech and criminal defamation and is an offence under Sections 153A(1) [Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony],153B(1) [Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration], 295A [Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs] and 499 (defamation) of the Indian Penal Code.