The Supreme Court today restrained Hindu nationalist channel Sudarshan News from broadcasting its series on “UPSC Jihad”. The order came after a trenchant volley of criticism against the series by the top court.
The court was hearing a petition filed by seven former bureaucrats against “UPSC Jihad” – the title of the channel’s series which insinuated that the civil services exams were rigged to favour Muslims, and claimed that former prime minister Manmohan Singh and bureaucrat Syed Zafar Mahmood had links with ISIS, Osama Bin Laden and Pakistan.
The Supreme Court at the channel for “vilifying” the Muslim community with “an insidious attempt to portray them as part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services".
The show was first broadcast on the channel on September 11. It was anchored by its Chairman and Chief Editor Suresh Chavhanke.
A day before, Sudarshan News got a clearance by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to broadcast the show after the Delhi High Court put a stay on it in late August when an inflammatory promo went viral.
The top court today told Sudarshan News that since the outreach of electronic media is “extraordinarily huge”, the show can become a focal point for “destabilising the nation by targeting particular communities”.
"As a Supreme Court of the nation, we cannot allow you to say that Muslims are infiltrating civil services. You cannot say that the journalist has absolute freedom doing this,” observed Justice Chandrachud.
Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, the counsel appearing for the channel and Chavhanke, told the top court that the show was “investigative journalism” on India’s national security. He added that a stay on the show’s telecast would violate free speech.
Justice Chandrachud did not buy any of this. "This is not a freedom of speech issue. When you say students of Jamia are part of a conspiracy to infiltrate civil services, that is not permissible. You cannot target one community and brand them a particular manner. This is an insidious attempt to malign a community," the judge observed.
A Newslaundry last week detailed how Sudarshan News’s show violated at least five of the 15 programme codes prescribed in The Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994. The channel had told the MIB that its show did not violate this code. Besides being factually doomed, as a by The Quint pointed out, the show was replete with visual caricatures of Muslims as cartoons with big beards and crooked noses.
The Supreme Court order stated that claims made in the show regarding the upper age limit and number of attempts for Muslims in civil services exams were factually incorrect.
"We order and direct, pending further orders of the court, Sudarshan News TV is restrained from telecasting the show in continuation of the shows already telecasted either under the same or a different caption," the court said in its order.
This piece has been updated with details from the court.