Case Analysis: Firoz Iqbal Khan v. Union of India & Ors. (UPSC Jihad Case)

Case Analysis: Firoz Iqbal Khan v. Union of India & Ors. (UPSC Jihad Case)

Author: – Aradhaya Singh

Before the Supreme Court of India Writ petition [Civil] No 956 of 2020

Petitioner : Firoz Iqbal Khan

Respondent : Union of India & Ors

Date of Judgement: – 15 September 2020

Bench: – J. DY Chandrachud, J. KM Joseph and J. Indu Malhtora

Background:

Recently the “UPSC Jihad” case has become the subject matter of the media and all the people of India. In the latest judgment, the Apex Court made strong oral remarks taking objection to a show telecasted by Sudarshan TV News in his show Bindas Bol series titled ‘UPSC Jihad’ hosted by Suresh Chavhanke, which created a stir with their controversial content which mentions the entry of Muslims in the All India Services after clearing the UPSC exams. It raises questions about several organisations like the Zakat Foundation, run by Muslim community members. The show questions their funding and even accuses them of facilitating the “infiltration” of people with terror links into the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).

Facts :

On 28th August 2020, the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution was moved for urgent directions since the telecast of a programme titled “Bindas Bol” was to take place at 8 pm on Sudarshan news; however, the Court declined to issue a pre-broadcast interlocutory injunction. On the same day, a Single Judge of the Delhi High Court restrained Suresh Chavhanke from broadcasting the proposed programme and directed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to consider whether there was a violation of the Programme Code under the provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. A communication was addressed on 9th September 2020 by the Union Government to Chavhanke to ensure that the broadcast of the programme is consistent with the provisions of the Programme Code. Since then, episodes of the programme based on the same theme have been broadcast on 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th September 2020. The remaining episodes comprising ten episodes, are to be broadcast between 15 to 20th September 2020.

Arguments Advanced :

  • Arguments of the Petitioner :

The content of the episodes which have been telecasted constitutes hate speech directed against the Muslim community and vilifies the community by portraying it to be involved in the act of terror or, as it is labelled, “jihad” is infiltrating the civil services of the nation.

The circumstances which weighed this Court in declining to order a pre-broadcast injunction have substantially been altered.

In the course of the telecast, palpably false statements have been made in connection with the Muslim community, including among them the statements that:

  • While the upper age limit for Hindus in the civil services examination is 32 years, the age limit for Muslims is 35 years; and
  • While six attempts are made available for Hindus to appear for the civil services examination, Muslims are entitled to nine attempts.

A carefully orchestrated attempt has been made to target the Muslim Community as being involved in a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services.

The broadcast falls in the realm of hate speech. Based on the programmes which have been aired by Sudarshan News Channel, promotional videos have been placed in the public realm on their Twitter handle in pursuance of which a large number of people have responded with responses that border on hatred towards the Muslim community.

  • Arguments of the Respondent :

This matter of UPSC Jihad is represented by Senior advocate Shyam Divan from Suresh Chavhanke’s side. The points laid down by the senior advocate for his client can be read as follows :

  1. There is no change in the position as it existed when this Court declined to grant a pre-broadcast injunction on 28th August 2020.
  2. Chavhanke has embarked on an investigative exercise, this being a part of the fundamental duty of a journalist to convey information to the public.
  3. The programmes raise issues about national security.
  4. The contents of the programmes indicate the involvement of foreign funding.

Points laid down by Solicitor General :

This case is represented by the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta from the centre’s side. He also presented his points regarding the same from the centre’s side. The points are :

  • Some of the broader issues which have been raised in the present case would have to be addressed from the perspective of regulating not merely the electronic media but other forms of media as well, through which information which is purveyed can transgress the line of permissible content which can be shared and aired.
  • In pursuance of the order of the Delhi High Court, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a communication on 9th September 2020 stating that if there is a breach of the Programme Code, the Government would consider whether a case has been made out for recourse to its powers under the law.

Judgement :

This case is being heard by a three judges bench, which consists of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Indu Malhotra, and Justice KM Joseph.

The court said it would not have stepped in and ordered an injunction on the Sudarshan TV show recently had there been a robust self-regulatory mechanism.

The court also observed the following points :

  • It appears that the program’s objective is to vilify the Muslim community and make it responsible for an insidious attempt to infiltrate the civil Services.
  • The large building (edifice) of a stable democratic society and observance of constitutional rights and duties is mainly based on communities’ co-existence, and any attempt to vilify a community must be viewed with disfavour.
  • To formulate specific standards to be followed by the electronic media, a committee should be made consisting of five distinguished citizens of commendable nature.
  • Media can not fall foul of standards prescribed by themselves.
  • The importance of having some regulating standards for TV news channels, as there is a high reach of the TV instead of newspapers as people watch TV more than newspapers.
  • The entertainment value of watching TV is more which newspapers do not have, and therefore there is a need to have some standards.
  • Journalistic freedom is not absolute. A journalist shares the same freedom as any other citizen. There is no individual freedom for journalists like in the United States of America. Therefore, there is a need for those journalists who are fair in their debates.

Conclusion :

Last but not least, it can be concluded that the top court had earlier declined to stay the telecast but agreed to examine the broader issue of balancing of free speech with other constitutional values, including the fundamental right to equality and fair treatment for every segment of citizens.

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