Episodes of a private television channel on “Muslims infiltrating” government services could not be broadcast at this time, a furious Supreme Court ordered today, calling the show an attempt to insult Muslims. “It seems that the purpose of the program is to insult the Muslim community and hold it accountable for an insidious attempt to infiltrate the civil service … You cannot target a community and mark them in a particular way,” he said. the high court, banning Sudarshan TV from broadcasting what it called a “rabid” show.
The power of electronic media to target a community, damage reputation or tarnish one’s image is “great,” the Supreme Court noted. One of the judges commented that “the problem with electronic media has to do with TRP”, leading to increasing sensationalism that damages people’s reputation and “masquerades as a form of law”.
A panel of three judges called for a panel of five distinguished citizens to come up with standards for electronic media. When the Press Council of India said the regulations are in force, Justice DY Chandrachud retorted the answer: “Really? If things were so dark, then we would not have to watch what we see on TV every day.”
The sharp comments from the judges are significant at a time when some in the media are under criticism for their ethically challenged borderless coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s investigations.
“The power of electronic media is huge. It (Electronic Media) can become a focal point targeting a particular community or groups,” Justice DY Chandrachud said.
“The anchor complaint is that a separate group is gaining access to civil services,” he said, referring to the Sudarshan TV show. “How insidious is this? Such insidious accusations put a question mark on the UPSC exams, cast aspiration on the UPSC. Such allegations without factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programs be allowed in a free society?” said the judge.
“Reputations can be damaged; the image can be damaged. How can we control this? The state cannot do that,” Justice Chandrachud noted, saying it would be difficult for any government to regulate private channels.
The judge, addressing Sudarshan TV lawyer Shyam Diwan, said: “Your client is harming the nation and is not acknowledging that India is a melting pot of diverse culture. Your client must exercise his freedom carefully.”
Justice KM Joseph suggested: “We need to look at visual media ownership. The company’s entire stock model needs to be on the ground for the public. That company’s revenue model should also be put in place to check if the government is putting more ads in one and less in another “.
Justice Joseph said the media “cannot fall short of breaking the standards they describe”. He commented that some anchors “silence the speaker” and ask questions.
“Next in debates the role of the anchor must be seen. How does one hear when others speak, but control in TV debates the percentage of time the anchor takes to speak.
Attorney General Tushar Mehta argued that a journalist’s freedom is supreme. “It would be catastrophic for any democracy to control the press,” he said.
The government attorney noted that there was a “parallel media” in addition to electronic media, where a laptop and a journalist could lead to greed of people watching their content.
“We are not on social media today. We can not choose not to fix one thing because we can not fix it all,” Justice Chandrachud replied.
“I’m talking about electronic media and print media. Joseph’s justice concerns need to be addressed with respect for journalistic freedom. There are a large number of online portals whose ownership is different from what they indicate,” he said.
Justice Joseph said journalistic freedom “is not absolute”. A journalist, he said, shares the same freedom as other citizens.
“There is no special freedom for journalists like in the US We need journalists who are fair in their debates,” the judge said.
Justice Chandrachud added: “When journalists operate, they have to work around the right to a fair comment. Look at criminal investigations, the media often focuses only part of the investigation.”
He said the “best within the nation” should suggest measures to debate and then meet the standards. “Now an anchor is targeting a community. To say we are a democracy we need to have some set standards,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The Supreme Court had previously refused to stay on television but agreed to consider the larger issue of balancing free speech with other constitutional values, including the fundamental right to equality and fair treatment for every segment of citizens.