The buck stops with govt. to end hate speech: SC

Govt. should step in when religious freedom, harmony and orderly progress are gravely affected, says court and flags hate speech on TV where anchors have become tools to peddle ‘agendas’

The Supreme Court on Friday said the “buck ultimately stops with the government” to clamp down on hate speech and hate crimes, as they are offences committed on society.

The government agreed that hate could not hide behind the colour of any religion.

“We would not have liked the government to come in at all, but in certain areas when religious freedom, harmony and orderly progress are gravely affected, it has to intervene… Today what are we fighting about? We have more important things to achieve as a nation — people are starving without jobs,” Justice K.M. Joseph observed. Justice B.V. Nagarathna was also part of the Bench that was hearing a batch of petitions seeking curbs on hate speech.

The remarks from the Bench came after Uttar Pradesh informed the court that it had registered 580 cases of hate speech in 2021-2022. Of these, 160 were suo motu registered by the police. Uttarakhand said it had filed 118 cases.

“This [hate speech] is a complete menace, nothing short of it,” Justice Joseph said. During the hearing, the court highlighted the problem of hate speech on television. It said TV channels and their anchors have become tools to peddle particular “agendas”, creating divisiveness and violent instincts in the society to win their TRP (television rating point) wars.

‘Media not balanced’

“We require a free and balanced media. But they are not balanced… We have got TV for decades now, but you [government] have not thought of anything for TV. Therefore it has become a free-for-all,” Justice Nagarathna said.

Asking if any anchor had been “taken off air” to send a message against triggering hate or bias on TV, the court said “if freedom is exercised with an agenda, you are not actually serving the people but some other cause. Then you have to be dealt with”.

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