#WhatTheFAQ: Why did Supreme Court crack down on media with regard to hate speech?

The top court was hearing a batch of petitions filed in relation to hate speech incidents and expressed several concerns about the manner in which TV channels are functioning. Let's take a look
Pic: EdexLive
Pic: EdexLive

Hate speeches are a “complete menace”, the Supreme Court observed on Friday, January 13, and rued the lack of regulatory control over TV news content, saying it wants “free and balanced press in India”, a report by PTI noted.

The court was hearing a batch of petitions seeking a curb on hate speech incidents across the country and initiating action against the culprits. The court also called upon the media's role in propagating such speech.

Have media channels been violating guidelines against hate speech? Today's FAQ will look into this.

What did the Supreme Court note?
The top court said nowadays, everything is driven by TRP (television rating point) and channels are competing with each other and creating a division in society. It wondered why can’t a TV news anchors, if they become a part of the problem of propagating hate speech, be taken off air, as per the PTI report. It said unlike print media, there is no Press Council of India for news channels, and observed, “We want free speech, but at what cost”. Justice Joseph also noted that many a time, during live debates, the anchors became part of the problem as they either mute the voice of the person sitting in a panel or don’t allow them to present a counter view, a report by PTI stated.

What instances of hate speech did it mention?
The bench pointed to the recent incident of a man allegedly urinating on an Air India flight, saying, “He was called names. Media people should understand he is still under trial and he should not be denigrated. Everyone has dignity." The petitions that the court was hearing sought action against UPSC Jihad campaign by Sudarshan News TV and Corona jihad campaign in the wake of the Tablighi Jamaat issue among others, as per a report by LiveLaw.

In fact, in 2021 as well, the Supreme Court was hearing a petition that requested action against media reports that were allegedly accused of "communal branding of Covid" with regards to the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Markaz Nizamuddin in the national capital, according to reports.

What are the broadcast guidelines against hate speech? Are they being violated?
Sub-section ‘c’ of Rule six of the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act specifically mentions that programmes that contain attacks on religions or communities or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes should not be carried in the cable service. Justice Nagarathna on Friday said that if TV channels are found to be violating the programme code by indulging in propagation of hate speech, action can be taken against their management.  In fact, the counsel representing the News Broadcasters Association claimed that thousands of complaints have been received in the past year and action has been taken against the channels, the PTI report said.

What was the recent notable judgment regarding hate speech in India?
Supreme Court judge Justice Nagarathna said this month that in India, human dignity is not only a value but a right that is enforceable and emphasised that public functionaries, celebrities, and other persons of influence owe a duty to the citizenry at large to be more responsible and restrained in their speech, as per an IANS report.

A five-judge constitution bench delivered the verdict in connection with a reference made to it to decide whether a public functionary or a minister can claim freedom of speech while expressing views in sensitive matters which are under investigation. The majority judgment said additional restrictions cannot be imposed on the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression of high public functionaries, whereas, Justice Nagarathna gave a separate judgment, as per the report. She ruled that public functionaries could be held personally liable if their statement is inconsistent with the views of the government.

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