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'Free speech, not hatred': SC says media self-regulation system toothless

<p id="content">The Supreme Court today, citing the Sudarshan News program "UPSC Jihad", said there are many gaps in the self-regulation model of media, and as a consequence, the TV program implicated the whole Muslim community as attempting to destabilize and take over the civil services.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph expressed concern over the stereotyping and vilification of the Muslim community through the TV program.

Justice Chandrachud said if there would have been a viable self-regulation method, then the courts would not have intervened.

"This part becomes a real issue, whenever you say joining the civil services is a deep-rooted conspiracy, that is the problem. Media targets the whole segment of the community. How do you deal with that?" he asked senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing Sudarshan News.

After going through the TV program, the bench highlighted several critical issues with its content and the deplorable projection of the Muslim community.

"We do not want to come in the way of journalism. But we have a constitutional duty to protect human dignity," it observed.

The top court said the court espouses free speech and citing the stay on the broadcast of the TV show, insisted that the court does not favor the injunction to be law of the land.

The bench said it has no problem with investigative journalism, but it has problems when claims are made that every member of the community will join ISIS.

"This is the element where it goes from free speech to hatred. To brand everybody in the community becomes a problem… you alienate them with a divisive propaganda," it said.

The bench observed that National Broadcasters Association (NBA) may have a committee headed by a former Supreme Court judge, but it is toothless, as it can merely impose a monetary fine of Rs 1 lakh maximum.

"If person is not a member, then they (NBA) cannot deal with him. Sudarshan News is not a member. We can use this case as a focal point to improve self-regulation," Justice Chandrachud told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre.

The bench said no government agency took action against the TV channel and the NBA says this channel is not its member.

"In this situation, we have to take action, when no party is taking action," said the bench.

Justice Chandrachud also sought to know concrete steps to strengthen the mechanism of self-regulation in the media.

Sudarshan News counsel, however, said that they will submit an affidavit to address the perception of hate speech in the content of the TV programme, so that the court could lift the stay on the broadcast.

"Need to look at the program as a whole, not as a part… I have no objection at all to any community joining the UPSC," argued Divan for the channel.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed broadcast of subsequent 5 episodes of "UPSC Jihad" by Sudarshan TV stating that the intent and purpose of the program is to vilify the Muslim community.</p>.