Even as the Supreme Court examines the issues raised in petitions against hate speech by hindutva organisations in Maharashtra, sections of the media continue to broadcast programmes and publish reports that seek to misrepresent, disinform and openly incite bias or hate.
Complaints have been lodged with various authorities against these media. Here are a couple of them, lodged over just last week:
In a follow up tweet, Jeet, part of the Yes, We Exist community, said that “AajTak maliciously misquoted the Chief Justice of India, amplified Government’s false claim that Marriage Equality is an Urban Elite issue, spread stigma against LGBTQIA+ people and used images & videos of several LGBTQIA+ people without their informed consent.”
Yet another complaint against Chaudhary was filed by the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). The organisation wrote to the News Broadcasting Digital & Standards Authority (NBDSA) raising concerns over a show aired on Aaj Tak on April 6 hosted by Sudhir Chaudhary.
The CJP report says that, on his show ‘Black and white’, Chaudhary launched into a monologue on “illegal” mazaars (graves) found on government land in Uttarakhand, especially forest land for which the producers of the show also carried out a ‘ground report’. However, CJP pointed out in its complaint that the host and the channel “missed the bus on getting their facts right while stigmatizing the Muslim community by labelling them and referring to them in a denigrating manner.”
PCI order on hate speech in Vijay Karnataka newspaper
In March, the Press Council Of India (PCI), which is a statutory self-regulatory body set up by an act of Parliament, passed a strong order of Censure against Kannada newspaper Vijay Karnataka for a hate speech report published on 28.03.2020, entitled (translation) “All Those Who Have Died from Corona Are From The Same Community – Why Do They Still Come Together In The Name of Prayers”?
The PCI order came after the Hate Speech Beda (Campaign against Hate Speech) group in Karnataka pursued a complaint against the newspaper for nearly two years! Earlier, the group’s complaints against egregious, hateful reportage by the news media resulted in censure of the Star of Mysore newspaper by PCI. Complaints against News18 Kannada, Suvarna News and Times Now to the self-regulatory body, the News Broadcasters and Digital Association has resulted in fines, reprimands and apologies being issued by news agencies.
A censure by the PCI means that Government advertising is stopped for a certain period with the newspaper, as a means to hold the newspaper accountable for violating the Norms of Journalistic Conduct.
In this instance, the newspaper had targeted a particular community and called for violence against the community. The article attempted to state that all persons who died from Corona are from the Muslim community, and that while Hindus and Christians have respected the curfew, this particular community is still offering namaz. In essence, the article attempted to blame the Muslim community for the spread of COVID-19.
The Campaign Against Hate Speech issued a notice to Vijay Karnataka, and then filed a complaint to the PCI dated 11.05.2020 stating that the article was squarely in violation of the PCI’s Norms of Journalistic Conduct, including targeting of a religious community, lack of neutrality, provocative writing, creation of communal disharmony, failure to ensure pre-publication verification, and also that the article constituted several offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Campaign sought for an inquiry to be initiated against Vijay Karnataka and for a censure to be issued against them.
The PCI initiated an inquiry into the complaint filed by the Campaign Against Hate Speech and issued notices to the newspaper and when Vijay Karnataka failed to appear, the PCI issued a bailable warrant of arrest for Rs. 5,000 against Vijay Karnataka on 25.02.2021!
The Inquiry Committee held that a bare reading of the article shows that it is targeting Muslims. The Committee also rejected the contention that the Campaign Has no locus as it is a platform of people combating hate speech, and that the Committee could also take suo motu cognisance of the article. The Committee held that Vijay Karnataka has tried to spread misinformation during the time of the pandemic and has targeted the Muslim community, and thus its conduct is in violation of the Norms of Journalistic Conduct as also the advisory of the PCI to maintain a strong sense of responsibility and disseminate only verified news.
The Committee had earlier suggested to Vijay Karnataka to tender an apology and publish the same in the newspaper, which they were not prepared to do. The Committee depreciated the conduct of Vijay Karnataka and held that “
newspapers should refrain from writing such editorials which can create discord among people and fan the flames
of communalism”. The Committee was further disturbed by the fact that the article was written by the Editor, who holds the highest position in the newspaper and is responsible for selecting news, and that, “ he should not have written such article derogatory to a particular religion. Such irresponsible behavior is not expected from the Editor.”
SC hearings on hate speech
In a hearing in the Supreme Court yesterday, a bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna said that hate speech is a serious offence capable of affecting the secular fabric of the country and directed all states and Union territories to register hate speech cases even if no complaint is made. The court warned that any delay in registering cases would be treated as contempt of court.
The court was hearing a petition filed by journalist Shaheen Abdullah against hate speech in processions of the Sakal Hindu Samaj in various places in Maharashtra and extended its order on October 21, 2022 pertaining to three states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi – to all states and Union Territories.
In January, in another hearing on a batch of petitions on hate speech and rumour mongering, a bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy said that television anchors who “try to create divisions in the society through their programmes should be taken off air.”
Earlier, in a hearing in September 2022, Justice Joseph observed that “the chief medium of hate speech is apparently through the visual media. In a paper, somebody writes something, nobody reads… Nobody has the time. But visual media has got a power which has been recognised by this court right from the case relating to censorship. The difference between visual media and print media is so clear — that it has got a devastating effect.”