The top court said what was required was a “will and a pure heart” to enforce the existing laws
New Delhi: The Central government on Friday told the Supreme Court that it was contemplating bringing a “comprehensive” amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure to deal with hate speech and hate crimes. The top court said what was required was a “will and a pure heart” to enforce the existing laws and deprecated the visual media for not behaving responsibly and airing programmes that did not reflect different views during live debates.
The top court’s observation on the way the existing laws are being enforced and the irresponsible way certain visual media outfits were conducting themselves came in the course of the hearing of a batch of petitions seeking curbs on hate mongering and hate crimes.
The additional solicitor-general (ASG) K.M. Nataraj told a bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna that the Centre was contemplating a “comprehensive” amendment to deal with the issue and had sought input from the states and eventually it will take a legislative route and go to Parliament.
Observing that it all depends on what you are going to do about it, Justice Joseph said that it is not that we don’t have laws to deal with the issue before the court but “what is required is will and a pure heart” to enforce them.
To address the court’s concerns, the ASG said that there are sufficient checks and balances if the agencies don’t act as they are required to. Justice Joseph said that “the checks and balances are not enforced in a manner where it should produce results.”
Referring to the top court’s judgment in Lalita Kumari’s case, Mr Natraj said that if police are not registering a case relating to a hate speech or hate crime, the complainant can directly file a complaint.
An unimpressed Justice Joseph said: “There is fear in everyone and nobody wants to stick one’s neck out,” and pointed to a recent incident where a senior police officer was brutally attacked in the presence of a crowd.
Expressing strong reservations over the current state of television news channels and saying they are creating divisions in society since such channels are driven by agenda and compete to sensationalise news, the bench aired its concerns over the way anchors conduct themselves during live telecasts of debates.
The bench said that during the debates, certain panellists are kept “muted” throughout and some get a disproportionately large share of airtime.
Justice Nagarathna said that we have had television news in our country for decades but there is no authority to regulate it like the Press Council of India is for the print media. The court made it clear that it was not in favour of any governmental interference in media matters.
The bench asked the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) and the Central government about how it can control such broadcasts.
“Everything is driven by TRP. Channels are basically competing with each other. They sensationalise it. How do you control this? You create divisions in society because of the visual element. The visual medium can influence you much more than a newspaper… Our audience –are they mature enough to see this content?” Justice Joseph asked.
Observing that it was the anchors, editors and management that controlled the content of a programme, Justice Joseph said, “You can’t have bias. You can’t have a one-sided programmer. If freedom of expression is exercised with an agenda, then you are not serving the people but someone else.”
Issuing notice to Haryana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra on the incidents of hate speech and violence, the court gave them three weeks’ time to respond and posted the matter for hearing after four weeks.