According to the Supreme Court, in its response to hate speech debates conducted on television channels, the “visual media” is the “chief medium of hate speech” and the government should explain why it is “standing by as a mute witness” and treating these events as “trivial matters”.
Observing that “hate speech can take many forms… sort of ridicule a community” and its dissemination through the visual media can have a devastating effect, the bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy, inclined to regulate such debates, requested the Centre to inform them whether any law was proposed on the topic.
During the hearing, the bench stressed that “hate drives TRPs, drives profits” and said it would consider laying down some guidelines until the legislature becomes involved.
“What… is it that we are thinking of For instance, in conducting an interview? What is crucial is to establish the methodological approach. The methodological question is what is the function of anchors? In the event that an anchor likely to get the biggest share in the time of the discussion, when the question that the anchor has to answer is long, the time allotted to the person answering the question is little. Even in that brief period, he’s being beaten down, transformed into criminal,” Justice Joseph said.
“You must be fair to all. That’s what we’re interested in without regard to the boundaries of hate speech until it is properly defined by the appropriate legislature,” he said.
A bench heard a string of petitions relating to allegations of hate speech in some television shows. The petitioners have requested instructions from the court the Centre to implement measures to stop incidents of this speech.
Justice Joseph said the problem continues to persist “unless there is an institutional mechanism to deal with it” in addition “what can be done till the government acts is” to “possibly consider” acting on the principles of the Vishaka case, in which the highest court set out guidelines to address sexual harassment at work.
“Let us attempt to achieve what we can. We don’t have the right to take away the power from the Legislature… The way I see it is that believe Vishaka is the most ideal model,” he said.
The counsel of the broadcast regulator informed the court of how the regulator was taking action with respect towards the broadcast channels which included the imposition of penalties.
However, Justice Roy said “unless the consequences of an infringement fall hard on the person violating, how does the message get across? You’ve passed 4,000 orders. Have you seen any effects on the 4,000 orders you’ve passed?”
“Hate drives TRPs, drives profit. This chicken feed type of penalty is not very serious. Their pockets won’t even have a tiny tear here,” he said.
Justice Joseph said, “The most important thing to consider is where our nation is heading. If this is the hate speech is actually feeding us what direction is our country going?”
In a conversation with the Centre’s counsel He asked the Centre’s counsel, “What is your stand? Did you file counter-affidavits? What is the position that India’s Government of India? What is the reason for this Government of India standing by as a silent witness while all this is going on?”
“Political parties are likely to change. But the nation will last. Press is an crucial institution. Without an independent, completely open press, there is no way for a country is able to move forward. It is vital that we have a true sense of freedom. The government must come out, not to take an antagonistic position but rather aid. To claim that you have created an institution that is accepted by all. What’s the problem? What is the reason why is it that you and the Government of India have a issue with this?” and asked “why do you consider it to be such as a minor issue”.
The counsel claimed that the government did not treat it as a minor matter. He explained that in the past the Supreme Court had asked the government to collect data from states regarding how they had complied with the court’s earlier directives and noted that just 14 states have already responded.
The court urged the government to provide an answer within two weeks, containing any data it has gathered, and “clearly indicate its stand with regard to the recommendations made by the Law Commission of India (in this regard) and whether it is contemplating any legislation in terms of the recommendations”.
Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, who is one of the petitioners asked for the Court to give a notice of the Press Council too in case it wanted to study hate speech in the media.
Justice Joseph said, “We used this term (visual media) since the primary media for hate speech is evidently via the media of visual. On a piece of paper, someone writes something, but nobody has time to read… Everyone has the time. Visual media, however, has an ability that was recognized by the justice from the trial regarding the practice of censorship. The distinction between visual media and printed media is so obviousand has had an incredibly negative effect.”