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Modify, Centre tells Sudarshan TV

Affidavit states govt empowered to withdraw licence under Rule 6 of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, if its directive was violated by channel
Supreme Court of India

Our Legal Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 20.11.20, 02:39 AM

The Centre on Thursday informed the Supreme Court that it had “cautioned” Sudarshan TV against airing attacks on “religion” and “communities” and had asked the channel to suitably “moderate” and “modify” its series on the alleged infiltration of the civil services by jihadi elements.

The Centre’s affidavit, placed in the court by solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, also stated that the government was empowered to withdraw licence under Rule 6 of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, framed under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, if its directive was violated by the channel.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra adjourned the matter to December 9 to enable the petitioners, Firoz Iqbal Khan and others, besides Sudarshan TV to respond to the Centre’s affidavit. The court was dealing with a batch of petitions seeking a ban on the telecast of the serial by the channel as part of the show Bindas Bol, which according to the petitioners branded an entire community as “anti-nationals”. Earlier, the apex court had halted the telecast of the series after a few episodes had been aired.

Another bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde had on Tuesday pulled up the information and broadcasting ministry after it filed a report that made no mention of the television coverage of the Tablighi Jamat gathering in the capital in March that had been subjected to a vilification campaign and blamed for the initial spread of the coronavirus in the country. The ministry had focused largely on the print media and news portals to give a blanket clean chit to the reporting and claiming that there had been no communalisation.

The CJI-led bench had suggested that the government consider setting up a regulatory mechanism under the Cable Television Network Act to deal with such content on news channels.

However, in the Sudarshan TV matter, the information and broadcasting ministry has informed the Supreme Court that it is empowered under the cable TV rules to rein in channels and had on November 4 directed Sudarshan TV to moderate its content and submit its compliance before going ahead with the remaining four episodes. The ministry’s order is subject to what the Supreme Court finally decides.

“The ministry of information and broadcasting, after examining all facts and circumstances of the case and balancing the fundamental rights of the broadcaster, hereby ‘CAUTIONS’ Sudarshan TV Channel Ltd. to be careful in future. It is further directed that if any violation of the Programme Code is found in future, stricter penal action would be taken,” the affidavit said.

The ministry has also directed Sudarshan to “review the content of the future episodes of the programme ‘Bindas Bol — UPSC Jihad’, and the audio-visual content should be suitably moderated and modified so as to ensure that there is no violation of the Programme Code.

The ministry has asked Sudarshan TV not to indulge in the following: 

  • Offend good taste or decency 
  • Air attacks on religions or communities, broadcast visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes and contains anything obscene, defamatory, deliberate, false and suggestive innuendos and half-truths 
  • Encourage or incite violence or air content that contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national attitudes 
  • Criticises, maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country 
  • Contains visuals or words which reflect a slandering, ironical and snobbish attitude in the portrayal of certain ethnic, linguistic and regional groups.

The apex court had earlier on September 23 deferred hearing on the matter after the Centre agreed to consider suitable action against the channel.

According to the Centre, Sudarshan TV had stoutly defended itself, taking the stand that it was exercising the right to express its views and that the form and manner of expression could not be reviewed by the government.

The channel had submitted that the findings of an inter-ministerial committee that the Programme Code and cable TV rules had been violated were “erroneous” and not based on proper records or materials.

The channel had defended the programme thus: “Investigation into the UPSC Jihad series has highlighted huge lapse of national security which prima facie needs investigation by various agencies of the government of India. Issues raised in the programme expose an existential threat for the sacred values enshrined in the Constitution.”

According to the information and broadcasting ministry, it had examined the contentions of Sudharshan TV in the channel’s written submissions on September 28 and October 8 and 15, and oral submissions during a hearing before the ministry secretary on October 8 and 15, and also the depositions made before the inter-ministerial committee.

The ministry said it had gone through the videos of the four episodes telecast by the channel from September 11 to 14.

Quoting the cable TV rules, the government stated in the affidavit that there was “…no ambiguity over the proposition that every private TV channel which has been granted permission by the central government under the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines, 2011, is bound to abide by the Programme and Advertising Codes laid down under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995”. 

“Accordingly, the contention of the Sudarshan TV Channel Ltd is without any basis.”

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