13 Jan 2023 11:45 AM GMT
While hearing a batch of petitions filed in relation to hate speech incidents, the Supreme Court on Friday expressed several concerns about the manner in which TV channels are functioning."Everything is driven by TRP. Channels are competing against each other. They sensationalise things, serve an agenda. You create divisions in society because of the visual element. The visual medium...
While hearing a batch of petitions filed in relation to hate speech incidents, the Supreme Court on Friday expressed several concerns about the manner in which TV channels are functioning.
"Everything is driven by TRP. Channels are competing against each other. They sensationalise things, serve an agenda. You create divisions in society because of the visual element. The visual medium can influence you much more than a newspaper....Our audience, are they mature enough to see this content?", Justice Joseph, the presiding judge, orally said.
"If the anchors of TV program are themselves part of the problem then what can be done?.NBSA should not be biased. How many times have you taken off anchors?", Justice Joseph asked the counsel representing the News Broadcasters and Digital Association.
"In a live program, the key to the fairness of the program is held by the anchor. If the anchor is not fair...the anchor would want to project some side, would mute other side, won't question one side...It's an indisputable insignia of bias. Media people must learn… they have to see that they’re occupying position of great strength and what they’re saying impacts whole country. They should realise that they have no right to speak their minds whichever way they want,” Justice Joseph added. The judge opined that offending anchors should be "taken off air" and hefty fines should be imposed on channels which are violating the program code. "You hit them monetarily where it matters"
Justice Joseph also criticised the manner in which TV channels used words against the man accused of peeing in an Air India flight. "Nobody should be denigrated. Everyone has the right to dignity", he said.
A bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna was hearing a batch of petitions seeking action against hate speech. The following were the broad category cases - the petitions filed against 'UPSC Jihad' campaign by Sudarshan News TV, the petitions filed against 'Corona jihad' campaign in the wake of Tablighi Jamaat issue, the petitions filed against Dharam Sansad meetings where anti-Muslim statements were allegedly made, and petitions seeking broad guidelines to curb hate speech.
When the matter was taken, Justice KM Joseph asked about the "general climate", since the last order. It may be recalled that in October last year, the bench led by Justice Joseph had directed that there should be suo motu action by the police against hate speech, regardless of the religion of the speaker.
"What is the general climate, has it become better or worse?", Justice Joseph asked.
"We can't draw a general conclusion. One spark and everything flares up", Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde said.
Advocate Nizam Pasha brought to the attention of the bench certain statements made by Suresh Chavhanke against Muslims, Christians, Christmas celebrations etc. Pasha read out comments such as 'Christians are less than 2% in India but their Christmas celebrations are imposed on the 98%', 'Hindus should learn from Buddhists of Myanmar who chased out Rohingyas' etc. These comments are widely amplified and circulated through social media, he added.
Stand of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh
Deputy Advocate General of Uttarakhand Jatinder Kumar Sethi informed the bench said that the State has been following the Court's order and has registered 23 suo moto cases after the last order. However, he flagged certain concerns and sought for some safeguards as far as suo motu FIRs are concerned. "In a suo motu case, there are some practical difficulties. When a police officer suo motu registers FIR, he becomes the complainant...and the line between investigation and complaint becomes blurred...".
Justice Joseph told the Uttarakhand Dy.AG that mere registration of FIRs is not sufficient. Sethi replied that in suo motu FIRs, there will be chargesheets for sure, as police would not want to say that their colleague who registered the FIR is incorrect.
"Chargesheet has to be filed with reasonable dispatch and should encompass full fledged investigation. It shouldn't be for namesake", Justice Joseph stated while adding, "This(hate speech) is a complete menace and nothing short of it".
Uttar Pradesh Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad informed that over 581 cases were registered and about 160 were suo motu cases. Justice Joseph noted that there is a "quantum leap" in the number of cases.
Advocate Shadan Farasat highlighted the issue of strengthening the regulatory network under the Cable TV Regulation Act against programmes spewing hatespeech.
At this juncture, Justice KM Joseph turned to the counsel representing the News Broadcasting and Digital Association and asked what has been done about hate speech programs.
"Everything is driven by TRP. Channels are competing against each other. They sensationalize somethings. You create divisions in society because of the visual element. The visual medium can influence you much more than a newspaper..The audience, are they mature enough to see this content?", Justice Joseph said.
"If the anchors of TV program are themselves part of the problem then what can be done?. NBSA should not be biased. How many times have you taken off anchors?", Justice Joseph asked the NBSA counsel.
"When a TV channel calls people, they call people names. For example, in the recent incident of a man caught peeing in a aeroplane, the kind of words they used. He is an undertrial. Please don't denigrate anyone. Everyone has dignity", Justice Joseph added.
"Channels don't allow people to speak equally. People you don't want to are muted! Others are going unchallenged", the judge said.
"When you claim freedom of speech and expression, you must act like you deserve it. Otherwise what dignity is left for us?", Justice Joseph stated.
"We require free and balanced press. Free, but balanced too", Justice Nagarathna added.
Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for the NBDA, said that the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority has taken action against many violations. The bench was also told that channels like Republic TV or Sudarshan TV are not part of the NBDA.
Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, appearing for Suresh Chavhanke, cited the speeches of Zakir Naik and Akbaruddin Owaisi and complained that no action was taken.
"When action is taken it should be against Suresh Chavanke and them also. Action should be against both", Jain said. Justice Joseph pointed out that the last order of the Court had expressly stated that action should be taken regardless of the religion of the speaker. Justice Joseph also pointed out that the speeches cited in Chavhanke's application are quite old, dating back to 2013, and said it would be better if recent instances are mentioned. Jain then withdrew the application with liberty to file a fresh application citing recent instances.
Stand of Centre
Additional Solicitor General of India KM Nataraj told the bench that in the present legal scenario, the practise of self-regulation is being followed as far as media is concerned. The ASG also said that unless something serious happens which affects national interest or security of the country, the Centre won't step in.
As far as the hate speech crime, the ASG said, "We are contemplating a separate amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code. That is the stand of the Union of India". The ASG added that the views of the stakeholders have been sought regarding amendments to criminal laws and it is legislative process which ultimately the Parliament has to decide.
As the hearing- which went on for over an hour- came to a close, the bench issued notice on an application to add all states as respondents in the case. The bench also directed the State of Uttarakhand to file a status report regarding the investigation of hate speech cases in respect of the Haridwar Dharam Sansad event.
The bench also recorded in the order that the Union of India is pondering over steps to be taken to deal with the issues highlighted in the petitions, including a legislative measure.