This Article “FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN INDIA AND HATE SPEECH: SUDARSHAN NEWS CASE” is written by Manasvita Tejsi, a student of Rajiv Gandhi National Law University.
A channel by the name of Sudarshan TV broadcasts a show called ‘Bindas Bol’ which is an investigative journal/news channel. They were to broadcast a show by the name of ‘UPSC Jihad’ which was an attack on how the percentage of Muslims has risen in Civil Examinations and appointments, moreover, how there may be a deeper motive behind it. The trailer for the said show was launched. In this case, a few students as well as alumni of Jamia Milia Islamia, filed a petition before the Delhi High Court, stating that on viewing the trailer there should be a pre-broadcast ban on unverified footage of the show. The petitioners contested that this was a hateful and inciteful representation towards the community as it also called the students and alumni of Jamia Milia Islamia as ‘Jamia ke Jihadi’. The High Court issued a stay order in regard to the broadcast of the show.
FACTS OF THE CASE
- The show was, at first, allowed to be broadcasted by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and directed the channel to not broadcast any material which would be violative of any rules and it would be taken down if it violates the guidelines of the program.
- Firoz Iqbal Khan, the petitioner, filed a petition in the Hon’ble Supreme Court against Sudarshan TV for putting a stop on the show that was to be broadcasted.
- At first, the court refused to put a pre-censorship on the show as there were no episodes released, only the trailer. This happened on 28th August, where the court refused to put a stop to the show before it actually aired.
- In the meantime, as the Supreme Court refused to put a stop to the show, the High Court issued a stay order.
- In the time-frame between 9th September to 14th September, while the issue was still ongoing, the show’s creator aired several episodes of the show which subsist defamatory content; there were flames in the background with green t-shirts, a skull, and beard with a hateful speech directed towards the community.
- Whether the show contained defamatory content towards a particular religion?
- Whether the respondents were in violation of Article 19 (1) a?
- The inaction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the National Broadcasting Association.
- Should the broadcasting of the show be stopped?
- The petitioner’s side said that the content was defamatory and incited hateful speech. It was detrimental to the sentiments of the community.
- The respondents contested that this was a violation of Article 19 (1) a, which gives an individual the fundamental right to Freedom of Speech and Expression.
A three-judge bench was constituted for the case consisting of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Indu Malhotra, and Justice K.M. Joseph. The Hon’ble Supreme Court restrained the channel from broadcasting any more episodes of the show. The court said that in the name of investigative journalism, no particular community can be targeted and this should be a message to the media; the court also added that the nation cannot survive in such conditions.
In regards to the show Justice D.Y. Chandrachud also said that ‘painting all candidates as carrying out an agenda shows the kind of hatred’. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud in regards to Article 19 (1) said, “As the judge of the Constitutional Court, I have a constitutional duty to protect human dignity, which is as important as our duty to protect free speech. We respect the right of freedom of speech but we are absolutely concerned about these kinds of attacks against a community.” In regards to the community, Justice K.M. Joseph said, “It is a matter of joy for the nation that Muslims are being selected in the UPSC exams. But you are running a show to run them down.”
The court also discussed the inaction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the National Broadcasting Association on the blatant violative issue and recommended and discussed robust rules for electronic media.
A single-judge bench which constituted of Justice Navin Chawla, the Delhi High Court in this issue, under a different plea, found the trailer to be a violation of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1955. A stay order was passed. This was before the Supreme Court stepped into the issue.
The quintessential question to answer here is if Article 19 (1) was violated by stopping the airing of the show. The answer to this would be negative as fundamental rights are not absolute. They hold some reasonable restrictions. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud justified the same by saying that freedom of speech in the form of hate towards a particular community was not awarded and passed off as a fundamental right. There was an attack on the sentiments of the Muslim community by using crass language against the community and labeling everyone who passes the UPSC exam, from that community, as having a deeper connection to the terrorist outfits; the title of the show itself was defamatory.
This incited hate and threatened peace within the nation. Using words like ‘infiltration of Muslims students of Jamia Milia Islamia in civil services’ is quite a strong statement and implies that the Muslim community has no right to clear the UPSC exam and they rather have to fund ways to get a higher post in bureaucracy. This is hurtful to the community and to the word ‘sovereignty’ enshrined in the Indian Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act. Sovereignty means that the state shall not have a religion and promote all religions equally. This kind of activity in itself threatens the very core of sovereignty. Justice Indu Malhotra on the images shown in the episodes said, “I saw one of the episodes and it was hurtful to watch. Many pictorials are offensive and need to be taken off.”
An attempt to tarnish the image of a community was stopped by the Supreme Court and a series of statements were made by all three justices in order to set an example that hate disguised as Freedom of Speech would not be tolerated and this should be an example to the media.
- 16 key statements by Supreme Court in the Sudarshan TV case; SEPTEMBER 20, 2020; Available at: https://www.theleaflet.in/16-key-statements-by-supreme-court-in-the-sudarshan-tv-case/#Delhi HC refuses to lift stay order on broadcast of communal show on Sudarshan News; Aug 30, 2020; Available at: https://scroll.in/latest/971757/delhi-hc-refuses-to-lift-stay-order-on-broadcast-of-communal-show-on-sudarshan-news
- Justice Chandrachud on Sudarshan TV case: ‘SC staying something is like n-missile but had to step in’; September 19, 2020; Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/sudarshan-tvs-show-sc-staying-something-is-like-n-missile-but-had-to-step-in-6601862/
- In Sudarshan TV case, Supreme Court sends out message that country cannot survive with divisive agenda; September 19, 2020; Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/in-sudarshan-tv-case-supreme-court-sends-out-message-on-divisive-agenda-1723312-2020-09-19
- SYED MUJTABA ATHAR & ORS vs. THE UNION OF INDIA THR. THE SECRETARY; W.P.(C) 5792/2020; Available at: https://images.assettype.com/barandbench/2020-08/2af69b00-9e3c-46be-a494-02d0f5ff27dd/Syed_Mujtaba_Athar_vs_UOI.pdf