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Need To Stop Hate Speech On TV News Channels

Prof. (Dr.) Yogesh Pratap Singh
28 Feb 2023 9:35 AM GMT
Need To Stop Hate Speech On TV News Channels

How many times have you taken off anchors? Have you dealt with anchors in the way you send a message?” These questions were asked by the Supreme Court (SC) from News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) while hearing a batch of cases involving allegations of hate speech. This evidently shows the anxiety of the SC on absence of any institutional mechanism to regulate the TV News anchors spreading hate speech. The Bench also wondered why the government has become a “mute spectator” to this menace and directed it to spell out its stand on the recommendations made by the Law Commission in its 267th report (2017). And this is not the first instance when Supreme Court has raised its concern on hate speech. It has been consistent in its efforts to stop hate on TV. Earlier a bench led by the then Chief Justice S.A. Bobde also observed that arresting hate on TV was is 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 observed.

Journalism is supposed to be an effective means to provide genuine information to society but lately electronic media in India has redefined the way it is provided. Commercialisation, TRP (Television Rating Points), LRP (Loyalty Rating Points), political penetration into media houses seem to be the dominant features of Indian media. News channels are mostly organizing debates on religious and communal lines. Panellists include all sorts of Sadhus, Maulanas, other religious leaders and party spoke persons who routinely make incendiary remarks on each other. Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan, Temple-Mosque, Religious conversion, Jammu-Kashmir, Uniform Civil Code, Cow protection, Lynching, Terrorism, Hijab, Triple Talaq, Population control and Movie boycott have been major concerns of our TV channels.

Ultra-active News anchors jump upon Hindu-Muslim stories and present them in a very inflammatory manner and with huge bias against one community probably to cash upon the rising Hindutva wave and score ‘loyalty rating points’ from the current political regime. These debates not only spread hatred and create fear psychosis but seriously creating rift in communal harmony. The aggressive and controversial heated remarks that catch the eye of viewers and listeners have started creating a psychological impact causing irritability and frustration. Psychiatrists are of the view that this kind of debates are also causing emotional instability especially in the younger generation.

The Supreme Court’s harsh remarks corroborates this obnoxious practice by News anchors breeding undue discourses and inviting people on channels who speak in very provocative languages. There is seldom any story on any of the fundamental issues the country is facing by journalistic research which is truth-revealing and helping the deprived. This is helping both media houses in terms of TRP and political class in terms of polarization of masses and electoral dividend. The Bench therefore rightly observed that, “Political parties will come and go… but without a totally independent press, no country can go forward, it’s absolutely important that we have true freedom.” …“But you should also know where to draw the line because there is a huge influence, particularly of the visual media…. The freedom of speech is actually for the benefit of the listener. How would the listener ever make up his mind after listening to a debate where it is just a babble, you can’t even make out what is happening.”

The changing media landscape, the proliferation of TV News Channels, the platformisation of media services coupled with the market dominant position and the business models of the major media houses, negatively effecting and endangering the core fabric of the democratic societies. This in fact gives these anchors a free license to indulge in status quoist propaganda. This danger was realized and anticipated by Dr. B R Ambedkar more than 70 years back which resonate today with greater profundity: “Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the Public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty. To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, and appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible” (Dr. B R Ambedkar, Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah 203 to 240 Vol 01 (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings And Speeches 1947).

The National broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) does not have any guidelines for the TV anchors and media houses which are reporting in a biased manner, sensationalising or giving "one-sided information." Any institution without regulation and accountability goes against the very ethos of constitutionalism. The print media is regulated up to certain extent by the Press Council of India constituted by the Press Council Act, 1978 with the two fold objects of preserving the freedom of the press by maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and the news agencies in India. Unfortunately, the Electronic news industry is essentially self-regulated by the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) set up by the National Broadcasting and Digital Association (NBDA) and Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) established by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF). The only government regulation for the TV industry is in the form of Programme Code and Advertisement Code under the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act which largely put the onus on cable operators. As the Chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), Justice Markandey Katju in 2002 suggested that there must be an independent statutory authority to regulate electronic media. Now government of India has assured the Supreme Court to make key amendments in the IPC and CrPC to curb the "menace" and prosecute those anchors who are assassinating the social fabric of nation.

One all-encompassing word, accountability, is the paradigm to be respected by the regulator. It is only when the accountability of TV news anchors, journalists, media, national regulatory authorities, towards all the people is present, that a positive contribution to the public good can be achieved, based on to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.

The author is Vice-Chancellor at National Law University Tripura. Views are Personal

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