Hate speech on TV: ‘Why the govt remains a mute spectator?’ asks SC

‘Hate speech is layered... like killing someone,’ says the apex court; holds the role of TV anchors as critical in monitoring the hatred peddled in the electronic media

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The Supreme Court has axed a 2011 verdict that mere membership of a banned outfit won’t make a person criminal I File photo

Coming down on the hatred peddled in the electronic media, the Supreme Court on Wednesday (September 21) said the role of TV anchors is critical in monitoring that their shows do not descend into a flurry of hate speech. Holding the “role of anchor” as “very important,” the court also asked why the government is “remaining a mute spectator”.

“These speeches on mainstream media or social media are unregulated. It’s (the anchors’) duty to see that hate speech doesn’t continue the moment someone does. Freedom of press is important… Ours is not as free as US but we should know where to draw a line,” Justice KM Joseph observed while hearing a batch of petitions seeking curbs on hate speech filed since last year.

‘Like killing someone’


“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,” said the court, expanding on why hate speech interests viewers. “Government should not take an adversarial stand but assist the court,” it further observed, remarking, “Is this a trivial issue?”

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The court posted the case for hearing on November 23, by when the court wants the central government to clarify if it intends to act on Law Commission recommendations on curbing hate speech. The Law Commission, upon a prompt by the Supreme Court, had submitted a report in 2017 recommending specific laws.

“Hate speech has not been defined in any law in India. However, legal provisions in certain legislations prohibit select forms of speech as an exception to freedom of speech,” the commission noted. It shared a draft legislation as well, suggesting “insertion of new sections 153C (prohibiting incitement to hatred) and 505A (causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases)”.

TV shows — late-evening debates, in particular — often go viral as clips on social media. Internet companies, thus, have also been under fire for not doing enough to curb hate speech. Earlier this month, Google and Meta — firms that run YouTube and Facebook, among other platforms — said they’d take fresh steps to combat online extremism “by removing more violent content and promoting media literacy with young users”, at a summit in the US on fighting hate-fuelled violence.

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SC’s efforts to curb hate speech

The Supreme Court has been consistent in its efforts to stop hate on TV. In January 2021, the then Chief Justice S.A. Bobde had said that arresting hate on TV was as essential for law and order as arming policemen with lathis and putting up barricades to prevent the spread of violence and riots.

“Fair and truthful reporting normally is not a problem. The problem is when it [broadcast, programmes] is used to agitate others. There are broadcasts, programmes that definitely have the effect of instigating people, not just against one community, but any community… Why are you blind to them… You don’t do anything about it?” Justice Bobde had said.

The court had at that instance been hearing a batch of petitions, including one filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which alleged that certain sections of the media communalised the Tablighi Jamat congregation by linking it to a spike in the spread of COVID-19 infection.