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Censoring television content prior to broadcasting can lead us down a slippery slope: SC | India News

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court said on Friday that while it was obligated to intervene to protect the right to dignity of a community and stop a television broadcast that attempted to smear the Muslim community as a whole by hinting that they were infiltrating the civil services, could not act as a PIL-activated censor board for television programs.
“We are aware of the fact that pre-publication restraint is an extreme recourse for the Supreme Court. This could lead us down a slippery slope, as there are 900 higher court judges and more than 20,000 judicial officers, who could emulate the CS and begin to grant an injunction on programs broadcast by television channels throughout the country, including for elections on the panchayat stage. We are careful to open a front of repression, “said a bank of judges DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and KM Joseph.
“We are cautious when it comes to playing the role of censors and the country has moved far away from the era of Emergency. We do not want to stand in the way of a mosaic of journalistic ideas that go to the market. But we also have a constitutional duty to protect human dignity, which is as important as the right to freedom of expression. We are here to protect the cohesion of cultures and avoid stereotypes of communities, “added the bank. He said the way forward was to strengthen the mechanisms of self-regulation.
The comment came during a hearing in which the court sought to balance its constitutional mandate as the protector of freedom of expression with the obligation to defend the dignity of individuals and communities and, at the same time, be wary of assuming the role of a supercensor. Since it included the “dignity” of individuals and communities among the “reasonable” reasons for curbing freedom of expression, the court also appeared concerned about the effectiveness of the electronic media self-regulatory mechanism and asked Attorney General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Union government, and the defender Nisha Bhambani of the National Association of Broadcasting to suggest before Monday how to strengthen the voluntary restrictions of the industry.
“The NBA cannot take action against television channels that are not its members, such as Sudarshan TV. The maximum penalty of 1 lakh rupees on an offending television channel is a pittance today. We must find one. way forward to have an effective self-regulatory mechanism, “he said.
Mehta informed the court that the government had drafted new legislation that provides for five types of penalties, including suspending a television channel’s broadcasting license for violating the program’s code, and has invited suggestions from interested parties and from the public before finalizing the bill for presentation. in Parliament.
The court gave reasons for taking the extreme step of stopping the broadcast of Sudarshan TV’s ‘Bindas Bol’ program for alleged infiltration of members of the Muslim community into central services. The judges said the channel sought to involve the entire community and pointed to offensive graphics, background videos and disparaging live chats linked to the show that appeared to vilify the Muslim community. He said he would consider lifting the ban if Sudarshan TV voluntarily submitted an affidavit before Monday detailing the changes it would make to make the show an investigative report. The channel agreed.
Appearing for the channel, leading advocate Shyam Divan said that constitutional courts, which always protected the right to freedom of expression to the utmost, would chart a dangerous course by resorting to the pre-broadcast ban. “There are sufficient regulatory mechanisms available, in law and otherwise, for the aggrieved to seek redress against an infringing program. No one has questioned the facts and statistics presented in the program,” he said.
“Taking a sentence out of here and there and then labeling the entire smear program of a community would be the antithesis of free speech. If there was a view that Muslims should strive to capture civil services, then there might be a To the contrary, too. The program was based on facts about foreign terrorism-related organizations that fund the Zakat Foundation, which covered the fees for training Muslim students for civil service. The channel has clarified that it has no objections to deserving students from any community enter the civil service. Nor are they saying that all funds are linked to terrorism. But surely the facts have not been questioned and it is a matter of national security, “Divan said.
The bank pointed to offensive graphics and background videos from the show, as well as hateful comments via live chat sessions linked to the broadcast. “You have every right to investigate the funding of the Zakat Foundation and present it to the public. But the problem arises when you involve the entire community. Can we allow you to go to this point to attack an entire community and accuse them of infiltrating? What happens when an entire community is branded with divisive propaganda is that good people are driven away from the community, “he said.
The arguments will continue on Monday after the channel presents an affidavit detailing the corrections it will make to its episodes to be broadcast in the future.

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