“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy but it is democracy” a famous quote by Walther Cronkite has proven that mass media is like a pillar that supports the whole existence of a democracy. A media with free speech is one of the strongest foundations of democracy. However, in current times it is seen that the media is using the right to free speech and liberty in a sense which is destructive to the democracy to the very fact that the whole concept of free speech given to the media, be it in any form is being questioned. Destruction of democracy through hate speech, misinformation, yellow journalism, tampering with facts and presenting, stereotyping minority communities, and vilifying them, has caused insecurities among the minorities and this effect led to hostility, discrimination, and violence against the minority communities.
The mass media is one of the strongest mediums where millions can get learned about what is happening around them, this can be a both boon and a bane. As more people get knowledge over a fact it helps in gaining collective welfare of the people. Certain emergency news can be propagated easily through mass media which helps in overcoming disasters more efficiently and within a shorter period. Therefore it is a big responsibility to use it properly for the welfare of the people and the collective good the society at large. It is seen now that parts of the news both in audiovisual form and in writing have been subjected to several controversial contents where time and again it is seen the information portrayed was biased, or a lot of misinformation was involved resulting in malafied propagation of certain news or article.
Hate speech in India via media broadcasting is one of the serious concerns that have been rising continuously in India’s past decade. Hate speech does not mean an offensive or a foul (bad) mouthed speech directed at certain groups. It is the speech that causes actual harm through social, economic, and political criticism of a community. Hate speech is often postulated against “free speech” and compared to as complementary ideas. In reality, free speech often conceptualizes the idea of equality. Hate speech often discriminates against certain groups in a community of people or country and attempts to marginalize them. These discriminations are not random in nature and are well thought out, it feeds into a broader context of discrimination. Media houses take advantage of the situation, broadcasting them on television thus creating effects like riots and tension between different casts of people and other mob activities causing an imbalance and anarchy in the society
Why regulate hate speech
Black’s Law Dictionary identifies hate speech as the “speech that carries no meaning other than an expression of hatred for some group, such as a particular race, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence”. Therefore it can be concluded that hate speeches are derogatory towards someone else. The grounds of origination of hate speech in India are generally caste, creed, sex, religion, and culture. Therefore if speech offends or tries to vilify a religious, ethnic, cultural, racial group and is capable of spreading hate among societies and peoples it is considered “Hate speech”. However, most democracies in the world have banned hate speech as it severely disrupts public life, and often hate speech leads to violent activities and hate crimes, and other similar violent results. It is seen in recent times that in examining the scope of hate crimes the law commission in the year 2017 has added a few provisions along with the existing ones on the Indian Penal Code for prohibiting hate speeches. It is agreed that hate speech which is shown to be able to incite violence is a serious case and merits stern action to prevent any further damage. Therein, a criminal sanction is seen as most suitably employed to curb hate.
Laws relating to hate speech
The supreme court of India has taken the matter of hate speech practice in India in an extremely concerned manner and this has made laws relating to the practice of hate speech. There are several relating to hate speech; a few of the important mentions are Section 153 (A) of the IPC. The Section 153A of the Indian Penal court says that whoever promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or causes any act which destroys the harmony between different religion, race or religious groups and casts of people shall be punished with three years of imprisonment and a fine or both.
The Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code which was enacted in the year 1927 refers that if a person with malicious intent or deliberately intends to hurt the religious feelings of any person or is found insulting or attempting to insult the religion or religious beliefs of a person shall be punished with imprisonment up to a term of three years and fine or both. The anti-hate speech law is contested because it clashes with the freedom of speech and expression of an individual, thus the regulation has proven to be a challenging endeavor. However, even after adopting strict laws against hate speech the cases are on a continuous rise therefore even to curb these even more stringent laws were proposed by the Law Commission of India in 2017, however, this led to a situation where the state made a wide variety of law, often lead to a state of over criminalization of hate speech. However, it is time to go beyond the framework and try to analyze the reason behind the cause of hate speech and look for best practices that can be used to address the problem.
Mass Media on hate Speech
Aided to a huge extent by the state as well as societal silence, hate speech in India has become endemic now. However, the societal implications of hate speech have become such that hate speech is considered to be harmful only if the link is directly connected to violence or mob activity, if hate speech is given as a part of manifestation by the voting candidates to lure a certain section of the society against another then it is tolerated as in a recent high court observation it is seen or when it is claimed that it does not lead to actual social discrimination. Thus, confusion remains about what hate speech does to the body of politics. Therefore hate speech also nowadays termed as dangerous speech to anti-minority violence is very obvious in recent times, anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka, whether it is the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar or anti-Hindu riots in Bangladesh, or the Delhi violence of 2020.
The Law Commission, in its 267th Report, has made a recommendation to create new sections in the IPC targeting to criminalize hate speech instead of relying on existing laws. It is going to continue to wreak havoc unless the judicial and legal methods deal with hate speech. Therefore as long as there is no sensitization and education on hate speech, against hate speech it will be difficult to curb the practice of hate speech. However, the first steps to counter hate speech will be to stop normalizing the practice of hate speech and to properly discuss the causes and reason for hate speech, thus educating people as to what is considered a hate speech and raising their voices against it and to bring the discussion around hate speech to the center stage in public discourse.
Author(s) Name: Abhishek Mukherjee (University Of Calcutta)