On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stayed the broadcast of the Hindu nationalist channel Sudarshan News’s show called “UPSC Jihad”. This was in response to a petition filed by seven former bureaucrats seeking an authoritative ruling on “hate speech”. The series was hosted by Sudarshan News’s chief editor Suresh Chavhanke. The series insinuated that the Muslims have infiltrated the UPSC services. The court chided the channel for their “rabid” programme and their “vilification” of the Muslim community.
“Such insidious charges also put a question mark on the UPSC exams. Aspersions have been cast on UPSC. Such allegations without any factual basis, how can this be allowed,” the bench said.
The show specifically targeted Jamia’s Residential Coaching Academy after 30 students from the academy cleared the UPSC exam. He called these students “Jamia ke Jihadi.” This drew flak from several former bureaucrats and the students of the academy.
The broadcast of the show was stayed by the Delhi High Court on September 9. But after a clearance from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the show was first aired on September 11.
Patriot talked to Syed Mujtaba Athar, a research scholar at the Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia and the primary petitioner in the PIL representing the students of the university. Athar hails from Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.
What were your reasons for filing a PIL against Sudarshan News’s show?
I was in my workplace when someone shared the video clip of the promo of the show to be aired on Sudarshan TV. The claims being made regarding my university and the general idea of the show were very disturbing, to say the least. The primary motive of filing the PIL was to prevent such misleading news items from becoming the norm. Besides, action in such a case from a legal standpoint brings home the point that spreading hatred against a community goes against the very fabric of the constitution.
Constant attacks on academic spaces and the interests of the marginalised communities contracts the scope of their participation in these spaces. For instance, earlier SC/STs were given accessible financial support, but now they are required to pay the full fee and then wait for the approval of scholarships and refunds. As a result, many are forced to drop out of college. Chavhanke’s show does exactly this; it targets a minority institution, its students and what they aim to achieve.
This isn’t a question about targeting just one educational institution, it’s about the entire set-up where Muslims have now become an easy target and islamophobia has been normalised.
All these issues prompted me to file a petition in the court.
The promo of the show was inflammatory. Did the first episode soften or solidify the blow?
I think Suresh Chavhanke has the ability to sensationalise every aspect of his programme. He is targeting an entire community and also the functioning of the civil services department for publicity.
The armed forces and civil services have always upheld the principles of looking beyond caste, creed, religion and sex. By making such claims, Chavhanke is challenging these institutions and by extension, the democratic fabric of the country. A lot of the claims he makes on the show are concerning.
Do you think that the restrain challenges press freedom?
Journalism is about facts. Agenda driven narration of information is not journalism. Freedom of press doesn’t mean that one has to compromise with journalistic ethics. There is also a lack of jurisprudence on the issue of hate speech. We were hoping that it would receive more attention through this petition and the scope and meaning of press freedom would be defined.
Jamia’s vice chancellor said that Chavhanke has given a more secular definition to the term “jihadi”. What are your views on this?
I understand her standpoint even though I do not agree with her choice of words. She has taken the moral high ground. The use of words like “UPSC Jihad” make the channel’s intentions amply clear.
Do you feel that in seeking a ban, you have somehow fuelled the programme’s popularity?
Hatred is the new normal, so saying that a petition to stop the broadcast of the show made it gain more viewers would be incorrect. Legal remedies in such cases not only provide legitimacy to the cause but also lays the foundation of the future framework on which such issues can be resolved.
Do you think that advertisers pulling out of such communal shows is a victory?
There has been no official statement from Amul regarding its advertisements on the show, but many organisations are trying to hold the advertisers responsible for their funding of such shows. Advertisers can be given the benefit of doubt as often it is the third parties that deal with different media outlets, but in recent times there has been a positive response from their side as well. As a responsible company, it should be their moral duty to ensure that they do not sponsor such shows in the future.
What are your views about hate speech on electronic media in general?
This show is one of the offshoots of the larger problem plaguing the news broadcasting industry today. The unprecedented mushrooming of news channels in recent years, coupled with the revenue generation model based on ads which in turn is based on the TRP, does more harm than good. Viewers are being shocked with unconventional facts and visuals, instigated with fear or jingoism, thereby neutralising their ability to comprehend and judge things.
This order of the Supreme Court may help develop the much needed jurisprudence around hate speech propelled by the press, the objective regulation of freedom of speech and freedom of press.
In our intervening application to the Supreme Court, we have argued that several international media and human rights organisations have compared the hatred propelled by many Indian news channels against Muslims to the dog-whistling of some Rwandan news channels before the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Humanity must not be pushed to witness another Rwandan tragedy. I am confident that these judicial pronouncements will play their part to prevent such travesty and strengthen our democracy.