Observing that "in absence of any specific legislation, it would not be proper for the court to make a substantive analysis or give a concrete definition of hate speech", the Karnataka High Court recently dismissed a writ petition seeking action against media houses and political leaders who allegedly made statements against a minority community.
The PIL filed by Campaign Against Hate Speech, an unregistered organization comprising of highly accomplished academics, lawyers and concerned citizens from different professional backgrounds sought directions to the Respondents to immediately take down inflammatory videos and reports aired on their news channels.
The plea highlighted various clippings of debates conducted by news channels like Times Now, Republic Tv, CNN-News18, statements made on social media platforms and interviews given to news channels by various MPs and MLAs that were alleged to be "hateful". It was contended that the Respondents had failed to censor such content, resulting in violation of Fundamental Rights, in particular the Right to life and livelihood of various people.
Advocate Harish B Narasappa, appearing for Petitioner argued that the complaints had been made in the backdrop of inciteful and irresponsible speeches and reports made by certain political personalities and media houses, accusing certain sections of the society for spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Refusing to indulge in this matter, a division bench of Justice B V Nagarathna and Justice M G Uma said,
"Since the Parliament has not yet thought it appropriate to legislate on the concept of 'hate speech' and in the absence of there being any definition of 'hate speech' as such, this Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, cannot issue directions merely on the basis of impact of hate speech on the society in general or certain sections of the society in particular."
The Petitioner-organization had also sought an interim relief in the form of a direction to the DGP and IG of the Karnataka Police to register an FIR in respect of the media reports, which were alleged to be in violation of Section 153A, 153B, 295-A, 298 and 505(2) of IPC. However, declining to grant any such relief the court observed,
"At the outset, we observe that some of the prayers are vague and the interim prayers which have been sought cannot be sought by filing a writ petition invoking Article 226 of the Constitution. The petitioners herein have not filed complaints under the provisions of Cr.P.C." Reliance was placed on various precedents set by the Top Court.
AAG R. Subramanya and ASG MB Naragund, appearing for Government opposed the plea stating that the petition was in fact a "publicity interest litigation" and that if any of the complainants were aggrieved, the appropriate remedy would lie under the provisions of CrPC itself.
Concurring with these submissions the bench observed,
"The Supreme Court in the case of Sudhir Bhaskarrao Tambe, has categorically stated that if a person has grievance that his FIR has not been registered by the police, or having been registered, proper investigation has not been done, then the remedy of an aggrieved person is not to file a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, but, he has to approach the Magistrate under Section 156(3) of Cr.P.C."
As regards the prayer for action against media houses, the bench said,
"Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India has recognized 'Freedom of speech and expression' which also includes 'Freedom of the press'. The said freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions as stated in Article 19(2) of the Constitution…Thus, if the State or Union Government feels that there ought to be reasonable restrictions against the Right to Speech and expression, it would have to be justified on the basis of what has been stated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. Any action to be initiated by the Union or State Government on the exercise of right to freedom of speech and expression, that would be justified within the parameters of Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India, is permitted."
"In the present scenario, since the Parliament has not yet thought it appropriate to legislate on the concept of hate speech. In the absence of there being any definition of 'hate speech' as such, this Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India cannot issue directions merely on the basis of impact of hate speech on the society in general or certain sections of the society in particular."
The bench also clarified that there is already a voluminous bundle of rights and remedies created in various enactments for aggrieved persons to complain against what they consider to be hate speech.
It said "The Indian Penal Code, The Representation of People Act, 1951; Information Technology Act, 2000; Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955; Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1980; The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and The Cable Television Network (Rules), 1994; The Cinematographers Act, 1952 as well as Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. These provide substantive and procedural law to the aggrieved persons who think or consider certain speech to be hate speech to seek their respective remedies."
The bench observed that the Central Government had already issued several guidelines to the Private Satellites TV Channels to promote "communal harmony" in the States and Union territories of India.
"Thus, it is evident that the Parliament has already provided substantial and effective remedies for protection of persons from hate speech and any aggrieved person can set in motion the criminal law if he is so aggrieved," the bench concluded.
Case Title: Campaign Against Hate Speech & Ors. v. State of Karnataka & Ors.
Case No.: WP No. 6749/2020
Quorum: Justice B V Nagarathna and Justice M G Uma
Appearance: Advocate Harish B Narasappa (for Petitioner); AAG R. Subramanya with AGA TL Kiran Kumar and ASG MB Naragund with CGSC MN Kumar (for Respondents)
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