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Government mute spectator to hate speech: SC

  • Published
    22nd Sep, 2022
Context

The Supreme Court recently criticised the manner in which television channels conduct debates, observing that a methodology should be laid down for such discussions to ensure that they do not fuel hate speech.

About

About SC Observations:

  • SC criticised centre for being a “mute witness” to hate speech incidents and asked it to assist the court in addressing the problem. 
  • SC chastised the Centre for not being “proactive” in addressing the rising phenomenon of hate speech and instead treating it as a “trivial matter”. 
  • Mainstream TV channels still hold sway. The role of anchor is critical and it’s their duty to see that hate speech doesn’t occur. Many a time those who want to speak are muted.

Other observations

  • Hate speech poses complex challenges to freedom of speech and expression
  • In the US, hate speech is given wide constitutional protection, whereas under international human rights covenants and in other western democracies, such as Canada, Germany, and the UK, it is regulated and subject to sanctions

SC Suggestions:

  • SC suggested that the vacuum in legislation be filled with guidelines, as was done in the Vishaka case.
  • Guidelines in Vishaka case remained effective for more than two decades before the law on sexual harassment at the workplace was notified.
  • Simultaneously, the bench added, it would explore devising a methodology on how TV debates should be conducted so that they do not further hate speech.

Law Commission’s recommendations:

  • In its Report No 267 tilted Hate Speech, the Law Commission suggested the following amendments to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973:
  • Insert a new IPC Section 153C (Prohibiting incitement to hatred) following Section 153B
  • Insert Section 505A (Causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases) following Section 505 IPC

Hate Speech:

  • Under the existing laws, neither hate speech has been defined, nor is there any specific provision to curb it.
  • Police take recourse to Sections 153(A) and 295, which deal with incitement and spreading of disaffection among communities, to tackle it.
  • Though the clamour for a specific anti-hate speech provision in law has steadily grown, defining what constitutes "hate speech" may be tricky, with the risk of an expansive law being used by the authorities to curb free expression.
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