Will stay on Sudarshan TV show have ‘chilling effect’ on free speech: Supreme Court

New Delhi, Sep 21, 2020-

The Supreme Court on Monday queried the parties, opposing the telecast of Sudarshan News’ controversial programme on the alleged infiltration of Muslims in the civil services, whether a blanket injunction could be issued, and would it have a “chilling effect” on free speech?

A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K.M. Joseph posed the query to advocate Shadan Farasat, who was representing three Jamia Millia Islamia students, seeking injunction against the show.

Justice Chandrachud said: “This issue is – what should be the nature of an injunction? Whether it would be a blanket injunction and if the court does it, would it also injunct protected speech?”

The bench also asked whether the court could restrict such an injunction only to an extent.

Farasat argued the question is whether a restricted injunction, limited in nature, would be effective or not.

The bench asked Farasat to first establish the focus of the programme was hate speech directed at a particular community.

“The Editor-in-Chief (of Sudarshan News) says there is foreign funding in this organisation (Zakat Foundation of India), surely public interest is attracted… he could be right or wrong,” noted the bench, adding that he has the right to his opinion, in connection with foreign funding of a foundation.

Justice Chandrachud said if the Zakat Foundation feels the content of the programme is defamatory, then they could avail civil remedies or enforce damages etc. “But here hate speech needs to be seen as targeting specific pockets of a community,” he said.

Advocate Sai Deepak, representing intervenors OpIndia, Indic Collective Trust and Upword Foundation, argued before the bench that the top court would want to consider that there is a question of the chilling effect of an order and what example does it make for future orders.

Justice Chandrachud replied: “We agree with you. We are extremely concerned about the balance between speech and right to dignity. Here, the community is a large amorphous group and we cannot ask them to take a civil remedy.”

Farasat contended before the bench each and every episode of the TV programme is a violation of the programme code, as the theme is that the participation of Muslims in civil service and in Parliament is a threat and they are about to take over the country.

The bench also noted that what could the court prohibit in an order. “… cannot say do not have men in green t-shirts and beards, then this will go into specifics. We cannot go into specifics… we cannot go too far,” it said.

The top court will continue hearing the matter on Wednesday.

The Zakat Foundation has also moved the apex court seeking to intervene in the matter and claimed the channel is “cherry-picking facts from publicly accessible documents on the internet and drawing unsustainable inference therefrom”. (Agency)


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