The Supreme Court on Friday described as a “nuclear missile” its order to stop Sudarshan TV from airing its show on the entry of Muslims in civil services. A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said the court was mindful of the dangers such an order could pose, given the fact that there are 700 courts across the country which may then do this routinely.
“It is like a nuclear missile, the Supreme Court of India staying the telecast. But we had to step in because nobody else did anything,” said the bench, which included Justices Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph.
The court told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting allowed Sudarshan TV to telecast the show on the basis of an undertaking that they will not violate any code.
“Bur that was all your Under Secretary did. He didn’t do anything after the telecast. The officer never pursued this to examine if there was any breach,” the court told Mehta.
The bench said it espoused free speech in no uncertain terms.
“We are conscious of the grave dangers that injunction at a pre-broadcast stage has. Tomorrow there will be some civil court issuing an injunction against some broadcast relating to panchayat polls and all that. We don’t want this to become the law of the land,” added Justice Chandrachud.
The bench observed that the injunction against Sudarshan TV could be one of the easier cases where many will say it was right thing to do.
“Does the Supreme Court do it every time there is a complaint? It might have been easy to do it in this case and one may say we did the right thing. But the danger is what if courts across the country start doing it in hundreds of cases. We are aware that what we can do here, other courts can also do it within their jurisdiction,” said the bench.
But at the same time, the judges emphasised that prima facie, the content of the show was bad in taste and sought to target one particular community.
Favouring a systemic change in this regard so that courts could refrain from entering this thicket in future, the bench said media must also get a message that targeting one particular community is wrong.
“While we respect freedom of media, let this message to go to media as well that any particular community shouldn’t become a target. Ultimately we all exist as a nation, which has to be cohesive and not against any community,” said the court.
“Let the market place of ideas furnish in this country. Especially as the Supreme Court, we have seen emergency and we know how important it is. But we are deeply concerned about the divisive commentaries,” it added.
The court then gave Sudarshan TV an opportunity to respond with an affidavit on changes that the channel proposes to do in the show to persuade the bench to lift the restraint. The channel will file its affidavit by Sunday with its ideas of course correction to be able to telecast the remaining six episodes.
It also told Mehta that the government should also suggest how self-regulatory bodies such as News Broadcasters’ Association and Press Council of India can be strengthened to ensure media organisations adhere to regulations. The News Broadcasters’ Association has been asked to suggest measures so that it gets greater authority in regulating TV channels.
The matter will come up next on Monday.