Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news

I&B Min taken to court over issuing “warning” for describing PM Modi as “dreadful man”

Smrithi Suresh

I&B Min taken to court over  issuing “warning” for describing PM Modi as “dreadful man”

At a time when the scope of media freedom and the State is under intense scrutiny, a petition of great significance is being heard by the Delhi High Court.

Today, Justice VP Vaish sought a reply in a petition challenging an order of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Filed, and argued, by Dua Partner Robin David, the petition describes the I&B order as  as “mechanical, factually incorrect and aimed at restricting freedom of expression.”

“The impugned order is wholly perverse and deserves to be set-aside in as much, it not only fails to record reasons for its findings but also refuses to consider any of the rightful explanations submitted by the Petitioner…”

At the heart of the matter lies an I&B order issued on May 12 this year, against  Sathiyam Media Vision Pvt. Ltd, a Tamil TV channel. The order states that Sathiyam has violated the Cable Television Network (Regulations) Act after the broadcast of two programmes in December last year.

The first programme was a religious programme (Biblical Prayer and Discussion); and the specific show that irked the I&B Ministry had a preacher who read,

“Daniel’s Verses 10:9 and contextualizes it with dealing with solitude and how belief in God can be redeeming and uplifting.”

The second show was on current affairs, containing comments and opinions on the basis of newspaper reports of the day. Again, it is unclear as to why this irked the I&B Ministry, but it evidently did.

A week after the broadcast, the Ministry issued a show-cause alleging the  the programme, “refers to the Prime Minister as a dreadful man”.

Even after the channel had filed a reply, the Ministry sent another notice in January 2015 that it intended to pursue the violations that had been outlined in the earlier show cause notice. The Ministry directed the channel to be present before an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) to present its case.

The IMC eventually found the channel guilty of violating the law of the land, following which the impugned order was passed.

In its May 12 order, the I&B Ministry held that the channel’s content violated Rule 6(1)(c), (d), (e) and (i) of the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

Interestingly, the May 12 order does not make any mention of a particular individual; instead it holds the channel guilty of “targeting a political leader”.

Hearing the petition that assailed this particular order, a Single Bench of Justice VP Vaish issued notice to the Union and directed them to file their reply within a period of four weeks.

The matter will now be heard on January 15.

(Read the petition below)