The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked why the government was remaining a mute spectator to hate speech and also pulled up mainstream TV news channels for holding debates that often give space for hate speech.
A bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy said the role of anchor in the TV channel debate is "very important" and "critical" and observed that it's their duty to ensure that guests invited to the show don't indulge in hate speech. The bench also said that TV channels which often give space to hate speech escape without any sanctions.
"Role of the anchor is very important. These speeches are on mainstream media or social media that is unregulated. Mainstream TV channels still hold sway. The role of the anchor is critical. The moment you see somebody going into hate speech, it is the duty of anchor to immediately see that he doesn't allow that person," said Justice Joseph.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking direction for steps against hate speech incidents.
The bench further said that hate speech benefits politicians the most and TV news channels give platforms for hate speech.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde appearing for one of the petitioners in the case also agreed with the bench and said, "Channels and politicians feed on such speech. Channels get money. They keep ten people in debates."
"You should be communicating what others are saying not what you want to say. Pillars of democracy are supposed to be independent and not take orders from anyone," the bench said.
The bench said, "If sanctions are effected this will go... Any anchor will have his own views, but what is wrong is when you have people of different views and you are not allowing them to express those views... in doing that you are bringing hate and your TRP is going up."
The bench further observed that freedom of the press is important and ours is not as free as the US but we should know where to draw a line.
Citing an instance, Justice Joseph said that one news channel was fined heavily in the United Kingdom.
"We don't have that here. They (news channels) are not being dealt with firmly. They can be taken off air, fined, if such sanction comes...." Justice Joseph opined.
Hegde told the bench that on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden said that we cannot give hate oxygen.
To this, Justice Joseph responded, "Not one bit. We cannot give hate any air."
The top court further added that nowadays nobody reads because of the paucity of time, but visual media has a power that has been recognised by this court in censorship cases.
During the hearing, the bench asked why the Central government was remaining a "mute spectator" on the hate speech issue.
"What's the problem? Why government of India not taking a stand? Why is the government remaining a mute spectator?" asked the bench from Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj.
Government should not take an adversarial stand on this but assist the court, Justice Joseph said.
Nataraj, representing the Centre, told the bench that 14 states have filed their responses. The apex court asked the Centre to also file a response collating the State government's inputs.
In July this year, the top court had directed the Centre to prepare a detailed chart outlining States' compliance with the general directions issued by it in the judgments relating to curbing hate speech. (ANI)