The Supreme Court’s concern about television channels airing hate which impacts the national fabric is very valid and must be comprehensively addressed and hence its suggestion of bringing in guidelines which are essentially internal in nature may be welcomed with caution.
India is a complex nation with too many societal fault lines that are unique to it. There are vested interests in every sphere of national life, be it politics or the media, who want to strike at these fault lines and make capital out of these. We have political parties that thrive on communalising politics and there are media outlets that successfully sell hatred among communities. They make quick returns in terms of power and money, jeorpardising the country’s survival in the long term.
It is hence natural that the top court is worried about this phenomenon and asking the Union government why it stands a mute spectator to the whole hate show. And this is not the first time the apex court has expressed its exasperation and asked for State intervention. It had in July 21 held the state governments and the Union territories responsible for stopping hate speeches and asked them to explain the steps they have taken towards achieving this.
The court now wants the Union government to come back with a response based on the feedback it has received from the states. It also wants to know if the Centre wants to pursue the recommendation of the Law Commission on hate speech and whether or not it is contemplating bringing a law to deal with it. The court has said the guidelines it has in mind follow the lines of the ones that seek to address sexual harassment in offices.
The court has been compelled to step in to try and curb irresponsible media behaviour. It is detrimental to the very idea of freedom of speech and expression if the State interferes with it but the media must realise that every right comes with responsibility. It must either set up its own self-regulatory mechanism to stop hate speech or be prepared for State intervention. There cannot be a free-for-all forever.