New Delhi: The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s decision to allow Sudarshan News to go ahead with its show, Bindas Bol – a promo of which featuring the channel’s editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke, had claimed that it would unveil the ‘conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service’ – is being called into question.

The channel, as the per the Ministry’s own statement, failed to convince it on one of the two points raised by the government raised in a notice it sent to the channel.

The show had been scheduled for August 28 but the Delhi high court had stayed its broadcast.

The order issued by the Ministry on September 9 clearly states that through its letter of August 28, it had given a notice to Sudarshan News. The notice stated: “This Ministry has received several complaints regarding a programme which is proposed to be telecast on Sudarshan News TV from 28.08.2020 at 8 p.m.”

The promo of the proposed programme, which promised an expose on why there is an increase of Muslim people in the civil services, went viral on social media amidst widespread outrage.

In light of the complaint that the show is communally divisive, the central ministry had asked the channel “to clarify on the above in context of the Programme Code enshrined under Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 by return mail”.

Channel raised two points of law

In its response to the notice, Sudharshan News raised two points. Though the Ministry accepted one and refuted the other, it still decided to allow the channel to go ahead with the show – with the beguiling warning that “the programme proposed to be telecast does not violate any of the programme codes.”

It added that “if any violation of the programme code is found, action as per law will be taken.”

HC had stayed telecast, refused to vacate it

A day after the Delhi high court stayed the broadcast of the show, on August 29, the same court refused to vacate its stay, citing a prima facie finding that the show’s trailer was violative of the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act, 1995.

A Bench of Justice Navin Chawla restrained channel from broadcasting its programme on the petition filed by former and present students of Jamia Millia Islamia University.

The Ministry order of September 9 made note of the court’s observations.

It said the high court had disposed of the petition on August 29 with the direction that the relevant respondents “will file their reply to the notice with the Central Government” by September 1, and that the Central Government shall decide on the notice within 48 hours of the receipt of the reply.

The Ministry order also recorded that in his reply via email on August 31, Chavhanke had made various submissions.

It summarised them into four points. He submitted that “the notice of the Ministry refers to promos of the proposed programme on social media platform which is not a subject matter of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.”

The channel editor also said that “the Ministry has sought clarification about the programme which is planned to be run at a later time. The channel has requested for being informed as to whether there is any practice in the Ministry for seeking explanation prior to the running of a programme.”

The channel also insisted that “the said programme is not violative of the law” and that “the notice is an attempt to do pre-censorship of a TV programme which is unprecedented and violative of the constitutional rights of the TV channel.”

‘One point raised by channel does not hold water’

The Ministry order, notably, said, “The first point raised by Sudarshan News, that the Ministry’s notice is based on content in social media platforms (which is not a subject matter of the Ministry), does not hold ground as the promo was telecast on the Sudarshan TV channel.”

The order added, “The second submission/contention is that the Ministry cannot do pre-censorship of a programme, and a programme cannot be stopped or prohibited from being telecast. If only when the programme is telecast and any violation of law is found, action can be taken.”

‘Peculiar situation’

The Ministry contended that “as per norm, there is no pre-censorship of a programme telecast on TV channels.”

However, it added, “This is a peculiar situation where while the programme has not yet been telecast, the promo of the programme has been telecast on the channel, which formed the basis of the complaints received by the Ministry”.

This story first appeared in ‘The Wire’ on September 11, 2020 here