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Supreme Court’s Directives for Spreading hate comments on a Public platform

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    29th Sep, 2022

Context

The Supreme Court recently criticized 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

What is hate speech?

  • In common language, “hate speech” loosely refers to offensive discourse targeting a group or an individual based on inherent characteristics - such as race, religion, or gender - and that may threaten social peace.
  • According to the 267thReport of the Law Commission of India, Hate Speech is stated as an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, and the like.

Hate Speech and the law:

  • 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(A), which deal with incitement and spreading of disaffection among communities, to tackle it.
    • Section 153A IPC penalizes 'the promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
    • Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), punishes any speech, writings, or signs that “with premeditated and malicious intent” insult citizens’ religion or religious beliefs with a fine and imprisonment for up to three years.
  • 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.

Recent Observations of SC

  • SC criticized the 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 the 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.
  • The bench underlined that “hate drives TRPs, drives profit” and said it will consider laying down some guidelines which will hold the field until the legislature comes up with a law on the matter.

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 the 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.

Related Data:

  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there has been a huge increase in cases registered to promote hate speech and foster animosity in society.
  • As there were only 323 cases registered in 2014, it had increased to 1,804 cases in 2020.
  • NCRB data suggests, that there is a 500% rise in cases filed under hate-speech law in seven years.

Law Commission’s recommendations:

Law Commission of India's 267th report 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.

Way Forward

  • Strict implementation of the safeguards available.
  • Reduce the instances of sections getting misused.
  • Introduced necessary amendments to clear the ambiguity and subjectivity contained in sections
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