Terming a show run by a Delhi based private television channel “an attempt to vilify Muslims, the Supreme Court (SC) of India on Tuesday ordered for the stoppage of the show.
“It appears that the object of the programme is to vilify the Muslim community and make it responsible for an insidious attempt to infiltrate the civil services. You cannot target one community and brand them in a particular manner, “the top court, according to a report by NDTV said, restraining Sudarshan TV from airing what it called a “rabid” show.
SC noted that the power of the electronic media to target a community, damage reputations or tarnish someone’s image is “huge”.
“Problem with the electronic media is all about TRPs, leading to more and more sensationalism that damages the reputation of people and masquerades as a form of right,” said one of the judges while ordering the stoppage of the show.
The report added that three-judge bench called for a panel of five distinguished citizens to come up with standards for electronic media. When the Press Council of India said regulations are in place, Justice DY Chandrachud shot back: “Really? If things would have been so hunky-dory then we would not have to see what we see on TV every day.”
“The power of the electronic media is huge. It (Electronic media) can become a focal point by targeting particular community or groups,” the report quoted Justice DY Chandrachud as having said.
“The anchor grievance is that a particular group is gaining entry into the civil services,” he said, referring to the Sudarshan TV show. “How insidious is this? Such insidious charges put a question mark on UPSC exams, cast aspersion on UPSC. Such allegations without factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programmes be allowed in a free society,” said the judge.
“Reputations can be damaged; the image can be tarnished. How to control this? the state cannot do this,” Justice Chandrachud, according to the report remarked, saying it would be difficult for any government to regulate private channels.
The SC Judge while addressing the Sudarshan TV Lawyer Shyam Diwan, said: “Your client is doing a disservice to the nation and is not accepting India is a melting point of diverse culture. Your client needs to exercise his freedom with caution.”
“We need to look at the ownership of the visual media. Entire shareholding pattern of the company must be on site for the public. The revenue model of that company should also be put up to check if the government is putting more advertisements in one and less in another,” suggested Justice KM Joseph.
“Media can’t fall foul of standards they prescribe,” he mentioned, adding that some anchors “mute the speaker” and ask questions.
“Next in debates, one needs to see the role of anchor. How one listens when others speak but check in the TV debates the percentage of time taken by the anchor to speak. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that the freedom of a journalist is supreme. “It would be disastrous for any democracy to control the press,” the report quoted him as saying.
“I am talking about electronic media and print media. Justice Joseph’s concerns must be addressed by giving respect to journalistic freedom. There are a large number of web portals whose ownership is different than what they show,” said Mehta.
Justice Joseph said journalistic freedom “is not absolute”. A journalist, he said, shares the same freedom as other citizens.
“There is no separate freedom for journalists like in the US. We need journalists who are fair in their debates,” the judge said.
“When journalists operate, they need to work around the right to fair comment. See in criminal investigations, the media often focuses only one part of the investigation,” Justice Chandrachud added.
Chandrachud said that “best within the nation” should suggest measures to debate and then arrive at standards. “Now an anchor is targeting one community. To say we are a democracy we need to have certain standards in place,” he said.
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