The Central Government has told the Supreme Court that if it wishes to lay down guidelines for the media, it should first do so for the digital media as there already exists a framework and a judicial decision with regard to the electronic and print media.
The Centre’s suggestion is contained in the counter-affidavit it has filed in response to a Court notice in a plea filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan seeking a ban on the Sudarshan TV show on the ‘infiltration’ of Muslims in the civil services.
“While in the mainstream media [whether electronic or print], the publication / telecast is a one-time act, the digital media has faster reach from wider range of viewership / readership and has the potential to become viral because of several electronic applications like WhatsApp, Twitter , Facebook ”, the Centre has said in its counter.
The media, it said, includes the mainstream electronic media, mainstream print media as well as the parallel media, namely, digital print media and digital web-based news portals and YouTube channels as well as ‘Over The Top’ platforms [OTTs].
Sudarshan TV stands by its show
Justifying his show, the Editor-in-Chief of Sudarshan TV Suresh Chavhanke, in his counter-affidavit, described his actions as “investigative journalism” and said it was his duty to awaken the citizens and the Government about “anti-national” and “anti-social activities” and the modus operandi.
In support of the use of the term “UPSC Jehad”, Chavhanke says it had come to his knowledge through various sources that the Zakat Foundation had received funds from various terror-linked organizations. He, however, clarified that not all contributors to the foundation were terror-linked.
He claimed the funds received by the Zakat Foundation, in turn, were used to support aspirants for the IAS, IPS or UPSC.
“This is a matter of grave public interest. It is also a matter of national security. Consistent with the national security requirements of our country, there ought to be a public debate and discussion on the source of such funding. It is the debate and discussions arising from the subject programme which may cause the government to re- examine its policy with respect to such funding”, the channel submitted.
The thrust of the programme, according to the Channel, was that there appeared to be a conspiracy which needed to be investigated by the NIA or CBI.
On the allegations that the channel made ‘fake’ claims that the upper age limit for Hindus in the civil services examination is 32 years while the age limit for Muslims is 35 years, the channel in its reply stated there was a graph of 32 years ‘General candidates’ compared with 35 years OBC minority candidates and while explaining the chart, the anchor (Suresh Chavhanke) had clarified that it was for Muslim OBC and not for General category Muslims candidate.
Earlier a three-judge bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph while hearing the plea on August 28 had opined that-
“Consistent with the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the Court will need to foster a considered 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”,
Terming the show, prima facie, an attempt to vilify the Muslim community, the bench on September 15 restrained Sudarshan TV from broadcasting the remaining episodes of its show till further orders.
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. Its duty to enforce constitutional values demands nothing less”, the bench said.
The bench further noted “an insidious attempt had been made to insinuate that the community is involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services. Several statements in the episodes, which were drawn to the attention of the Court are not just palpably erroneous but have been made in wanton disregard of the truth”.
The Court is scheduled to hear the matter tomorrow for further hearing.