Sudarshan TV’s show an affront to dignity and right to life of Muslims, Adv Shadan Farasat to SC

On the 5th day of hearing of a petition seeking ban on the Sudarshan TV’s ‘UPSC Jihad’ show, the Supreme Court Monday said while it is concerned about the likely implications of its order on free speech, it is “equally concerned” about balancing free speech and human dignity.

“If you are targeting an identifiable group, they have civil law remedies. But when a wide amorphous group of people is targeted, where will one go to? Justice Chandrachud said.

These observations came when advocate Shadan Farasat, on behalf of three Jamia Milia Islamia students, argued at length on how the Sudarshan TV show was a direct affront to the dignity and right to life of a particular community.

“The ability of any person to access equality of opportunity is dependent on the standing in society of the group he belongs to. A series such as UPSC jihad damages that article 14 right substantially”, Farasat argued.

Farasat contended that the situation before the court today arose because of the abdication of duty on the part of the Central Government and the total lack of application of mind by it while allowing Sudarshan TV to run its show.

Quoting from the book “How democracies die” which states the institutions continue but they become hollow, Farasat submitted that similarly continuous attacks create a pervasive environment of hate speech reducing “me to someone for whom the promise of equality exists but only as a mirage”.

Farasat went on to compare the show with that of Rwanda radio, which had played a significant role in inciting people for genocide against the Tutsi.

He added that the nature, theme and direction of the show was that the participation of Muslims in the civil services was an attempt to take over the country; that they were a threat and should be stopped by the rest of the country.

The show was structured in such a way that it qualified to be hate speech and that was why despite ample opportunity from the Court to amend the show, the Channel was adamant to run it in its present form, Farasat emphasized.

In sub and substance, Farasat submitted, Sudarshan TV’s show on ‘UPSC Jihad’ is full of hate speech and direct targeting of the Muslim community. “…the show negates the right of the Muslim community under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India, and, therefore, a Constitutional Court must come to the rescue of the community to safeguards their constitutional rights”, Farasat asserted.

Justice KM Joseph wondered if the Central Government had watched the first four episodes of the show, which had been broadcast after it gave permission, and if yes, what action had it taken?

At the outset, the bench also heard senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi who appeared for the News Broadcasters Federation (NBF). Rohtagi submitted that his client was the largest body of news channels in India. He added he would inform the Court how a self-regulatory method should be drawn up. He also clarified that he had nothing to say on Sudarshan TV.

“I am on a larger issue of self-regulation…,” Rohtagi said.

Advocate J Sai Deepak, appearing for interveners, OpIndia, Indic Collective and Upword, said that the primary purpose of intervening was to venture into the larger area of principles concerning hate speech. He sought to argue that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction in the matter. In response, Justice Chandrachud said he being the intervenor could not make a preliminary submission.

Sai Deepak sought to place on record a study by OpIndia on contemporary standards in religious reporting by mass media that captures approximately 100 instances of patently false reportage by the mainstream media.

Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Zakat Foundation, sought permission to be heard at the end. In its application, the Zakat foundation disputed the allegations made by Sudarshan TV against it.

The Court also admonished Editor-in-Chief of Sudarshan TV Suresh Chavhanke, for referring an 8-year-old show on NDTV on “Hindu Terror” in his affidavit. Justice Chandrachud said nobody asked the Editor to comment on what NDTV did in 2008.

“We had given your client a chance to explain as to what he proceeds to do for the rest of the show. You say you will adhere to the Programme Code. Did you adhere to it with the first four episodes? Do you intend to continue in the same vein with the rest of the episodes?”, said Justice Chandrachud.

Advocate Vishnu Jain, for Sudarshan TV, said the first four episodes were in consonance with the Programme Code and that the remaining episodes would be in the same vein. Jain also urged the Court to go through each episode. To this, Justice Chandrachud said-

“If you check the line of civilized jurisprudence, in no case of the injunction, has the counsel read all 700 pages of a contentious novel to the judge line by line to satisfy them. That has been the precedent and we don’t want to deviate.”

Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani also appeared for one of the intervenors. 

The matter will now be heard on Wednesday when senior advocate Anoop Chaudhary for the original petitioner Firoz Iqbal Khan, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and counsels for other intervenors will be heard at length.

The apex court on September 15 restrained Sudarshan TV from broadcasting the remaining episodes of its show of what the channel termed the “infiltration of Muslims” in the Civil Services, till further orders.

The Court had said “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”.