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The Karnataka High Court recently dismissed a plea calling for action against media houses and political leaders for promoting enmity through hate speech.
(PIL Hate speech)
(Karnataka High Court - Hate speech)
While doing so, the Court held that in the absence of any specific legislation, it would be improper to make a substantive analysis or give a concrete definition of "hate speech".
The Court was dealing with a PIL filed by Campaign Against Hate Speech seeking directions to take action against media houses and political leaders who have made 'hateful statements' against the minority Muslim community after several members of the Tablighi Jamaat tested positive for Coronavirus.
The Division Bench of Justice BV Nagarathna and MG Uma ultimately held,
Karnataka High Court
Recognising the freedom of the press as part of the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, the Court stated,
"...if the State or Union Government feels that there ought to be reasonable restrictions against the Right to Speech and Expression, it would have to be justified on the basis of what has been stated under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India."
The Court went on to remark that it was not appropriate for it to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to direct either the Parliament or the State Legislature in the issue. Reliance was placed on the Supreme Court's decision in AK Roy v. Union Of India.
It was the contention of the petitioner that the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has, from time to time, issued advisories directing all private satellite TV channels to refrain from broadcasting content that may incite violence, threaten national integrity, or violate laws.
Such deliberate reports and statements made by the media insult the religious beliefs of a certain minority community and further violates Section 295-A and Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code as well as of the provisions of the Cable TV Regulation Act read with the Cable TV Regulation Rules, it was contended.
The petitioners further stated that though a representation calling for action against hate speech was made to the state, no response was received. Hence, the PIL was filed before the High Court.
Countering this, it was argued on behalf of the Central and state governments that if any of the complainants were aggrieved, the appropriate remedy would lie under the provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) itself. In this regard, the Sudhir Bhaskarrao Tambe judgment was cited to further buttress their argument.
Concurring with the contentions of the governments, the Court held that the petitioners ought have gone as per the procedure under the CrPC.
Karnataka High Court
Moreover, the Court held that there was already a voluminous bundle of rights and remedies under various enactments for aggrieved persons to complain against what they consider to be "hate speech".
"The Indian Penal Code, The Representation of People Act, 1951; Information Technology Act, 2000; Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955; Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1980; The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and The Cable Television Network (Rules), 1994; The Cinematographers Act, 1952 as well as Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. These provide substantive and procedural law to the aggrieved persons who think or consider certain speech to be hate speech to seek their respective remedies."
It was also observed that the Centre had already issued several guidelines to the private satellite TV channels to promote "communal harmony" in the states and union territories of India.
This apart, the petitioner organization had also sought interim relief in the form of a direction to the DGP and IG of the Karnataka Police to register an FIR in respect of the media reports, which were alleged to be in violation of Section 153A, 153B, 295-A, 298 and 505(2) of IPC.
However, refusing to grant these reliefs, the Court observed,
"At any rate, no writ petition under Article 226 is maintainable under the aforesaid circumstances in view of the aforesaid judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court."
Therefore, with these observations, the Court proceeded to dismiss the matter.
Advocates Harish B Narasappa and Poornima Hatti appeared for the petitioners in the matter.
The plea claimed that despite the Centre's directions to refrain from broadcasting content that may incite violence, many media statements and reports had targeted the members of the Muslim community by accusing them of wilfully spreading COVID-19.
Adding on, it was noted that several political leaders had indulged in hateful and inciteful speech in connection with the spread of the COVID-19 in India, the plea noted.
To further buttress its argument, the petitioner cited various inflammatory remarks that were made through private television channels by many political leaders, including the following:
“Corona super spreaders……they have no right to live on this soil.”,
“We have identified the corona villains and all we need to do is, firstly isolate, second catch them, third punish them and lastly defeat them and this will be a major achievement.”
“The government should initiate Draconian steps, unforgiving steps to teach this …. a lesson, make them pay, destroy their financial base, put huge fines on them, lock up leadership in jail.”
It was further contended that these derogatory statements made on news-channels and publications were made with the sole intention and purpose of inciting hatred against certain communities.
In this view, the plea interalia prayed for the following reliefs:
Call for records from the State with respect to the action taken in connection with the offences and violations specified in this petition;
Direct the State to take action in accordance with law against media houses and political leaders who have done, and continue to, violate the law with impunity;
Direct the Director General and Inspector General of Police to initiate steps to take down inflammatory videos and reports targeting specific communities;
Call for records with respect to the constitution and functioning of the State Level Monitoring Committee for Private Television Channels as well as the District Level Monitoring Committee for Private Television Channels