‘Can’t give hate any air… where is nation headed?

A firm regulatory mechanism was needed against hate speeches, the Supreme Court has said. Expressing deep concern at mainstream news channels allowing hate speeches without regulation, a bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy orally observed, “we cannot give hate any air” and asked the Centre to take the lead in the matter instead of remaining a “mute spectator”.

“Where is our nation headed,” the bench asked. While freedom of press is important, “these speeches on mainstream media or social media are unregulated. Mainstream TV channels still hold sway,” the bench said. “It is the anchor’s duty to see that hate speech does not continue the moment someone initiates it. Ours is not as free as the US, but we should know where to draw a line,” the bench said.

It disapproved of news channels giving time for hate speeches and escaping punitive action. Elaborating on the role of the news anchor, the bench said “the role of anchors is critical. It is their duty to see that hate speech doesn’t happen.” Speaking for the bench, Justice Joseph said, “many a times those who want to speak are muted… TV content is for the benefit of the listener; how will they make up their mind when there is a babble of voices?”

Referring to a penalty recently imposed on a TV channel in the United Kingdom, SC said, “one channel was fined heavily in the UK. We don’t have that here. They are not being dealt with firmly. They can be taken off air, fined, if such a sanction comes.”

The remarks were made during resumed hearing of a clutch of petitions that sought steps to be taken against hate speeches. During the resumed hearing, the bench observed that politicians benefit the most by rendering hate speeches and television channels provide them the platform for doing the same. Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said that self-regulation of news channels was done by a “toothless body”.

Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, one of the petitioners, asked whether the court was equipped to go into individual violations every time it occurs. Finding force in the contention, the court remarked, “you have a point. Unless there is an institutional method to deal with it.” Indicating that it will refrain from usurping powers of the legislature to frame laws, the bench said it would be guided by the Vishakha judgement which provided basic definitions of sexual harassment at workplaces as well as guidelines to deal with the same. Highlighting how hate speech had a layered impact and kept viewers hooked, the bench said, “killing someone, you can do it in multiple ways. Slowly or otherwise. They keep us hooked based on certain convictions.”

The counsel for the Centre said that 14 states had filed responses to the SC notice. The bench urged the Centre to assist it rather than taking an adversarial stand and directed the Centre to file an affidavit collating states’ inputs and posted the case for hearing on November 23.

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