NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court told the government on Thursday to rein in TV channels that were spreading hate, and said it could not be a mute witness to the free for all.
“Hate speech is layered… Like killing someone, you can do it in multiple ways, slowly or otherwise. They keep us hooked based on certain convictions,” the court said, expanding on why hate speech interests viewers, according to NDTV.
Hearing a batch of petitions seeking directions, Justice K.M. Joseph made several oral observations. “Where is our nation headed?” he asked, making the case for a firm regulatory mechanism against hate speech. He also slammed the government of India, asking: “Why is it standing as a mute witness when all this is happening?”
The bench also comprised Justice Hrishikesh Roy. According to LiveLaw, the batch of petitions included challenges to the infamous “UPSC Jihad” show aired by Sudarshan News TV, which alleged that Muslims were trying to seek jobs as government officials as part of a subversive agenda.
The court referred to speeches made by hard-right Hindutva leaders at a religious gathering in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, and regulating social media messages that communalised the spread of Covid in India.
When Justice Joseph asked what the provisions of the law related to hate speech were, he was informed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, one of the petitioners, that “hate speech” and “rumour mongering” are not defined under any law.
Justice Joseph asked the government regarding its response and why it was “a mute witness”. He suggested that the government come forward to put in place an institution, which will be abided by all, according to LiveLaw.
The judge said during the hearing that hate speeches were either made on mainstream television channels or on social media. “Social media is largely unregulated….As far as mainstream television channel is concerned, we still hold sway, there the role of [the] anchor is very critical because the moment you see somebody going into hate speech, it’s the duty of the anchor to immediately see that he doesn’t allow that person to say anything further. “Unfortunately, many a time somebody wants to say something he is muted, [the] person is not given proper time, he is not even treated courteously,” he said.
Visual media has got a “devastating” effect and nobody cares what is written in newspapers as people are bereft of time to read, the court added.
“Visual media has got the power that has been recognised right from cases relating to censorship. The difference between visual media and print media is so clear. It (visual media) has got a devastating effect,” the bench observed.
This is not the first time the supreme court has expressed concern at the rise of hate speech. In January last year, the court expressed concern at hate speech on television and social media going unregulated, saying it poisons the fabric of society and cannot be allowed to go on.
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2022