The Hate Genie is Out of the Bottle
TUKOJI R. PANDIT
The Supreme Court has expressed concern over hate mongering by the electronic media and the government watching it as a ‘mute spectator’, leading to another round of debate. But as before, there appears to be little hope of finding an effective solution to push the genie back into the bottle.
The court as well as an overwhelming opinion among journalists and the civil society does not think that enacting a separate law against hate speech and writing is the right solution.
The court does want the government to devise a formula for curbing or ending hate-mongering in the media. Everyone is aware that the so-called self-regulatory mechanism within the media simply doesn’t work. The court itself observed that nearly 4000 orders on violation of the self-regulatory provisions have been passed but it made not an iota of difference in the ever-increasing volume of hate-mongering.
Within the ambit of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, it is clear that a remedy has to come from in-house efforts of the electronic media, not any government regulation. Strengthening or giving more teeth to the existing regulatory framework may be acceptable and may work but conditions will apply.
The government or the party in power defines ‘hate’ selectively and in a manner that suits it but is contrary to the normal understanding of the term. It goes even against the definition in the statute book which does not allow anything that vitiates harmonious relations between communities and/or hurts the sentiments of any religious group.
The divergence of views in defining ‘hurt sentiments’ will be a stumbling block in arriving at a mutually agreed definition of hate that can facilitate action against the offender. Of course, some honesty in arriving at a fair definition of ‘hate’—speech or writing- will help, but in the prevailing political situation it appears to be a near impossible task.
It becomes all the more difficult and complex because what we normally call ‘hate’ is tacitly approved by the power centres. The government has chosen to be a ‘mute spectator’ because hate-mongering is dovetailed into its policy of polarization, an essential part of the winning strategy of the ruling party.
It should be clear that institutions (media houses) are not necessarily the originators of the present-day hate-mongering, though they may have been generating ‘hate’ against the ruling dispensations of previous years—without facing treason or other serious charges.
With few exceptions, media houses in India (both electronic and print) are owned by business tycoons or industrial empires. The media outlets they run are extensions of their business interests, foremost of which is earning handsome profits.
The structure of media companies in India is such that advertisements become the backbone of survival and prosperity. Ads, in turn, come from the private sector (business houses) and the government. In the last eight years, the government (and the parties in power in the states) has become the biggest sources of advertisement revenue of media houses.
The government at the centre has made it clear that its advertisement munificence will depend on towing the government agenda. The owners of media houses choose to bow to the government wishes to avert harassment and worse by investigative agencies of the centre.
The compulsions of the survival instinct of the proprietor become the signal for the editorial team in the media house to be ‘caged’—dare not act against the political interests of the rulers.
But what should really be worrying is that in the last few years, the media houses in India, TV in particular, have seen a high growth of ‘journalists’ whose only ‘mission’ seems to be playing up the government agenda. There are anchors and TV figures soaked thoroughly in hatred and spewing poison on the idiot box.
They have turned the profession of journalism upside down with weird tactics and on-screen antics which, it is said, boost viewership—TRPs, as they are called. A thumb rule that these TV men and women remember by heart is that all Opposition and government critics are to be subjected to inquisition while the ruling party spokespersons and supporters are to be treated as holy cows.
They talk and act with deep conviction and reject all allegations of pursuing an agenda of ‘hate’. Their fingers permanently point at the Opposition members and the tribe of ‘Urban Naxals’ and the rest.
So, even as the Supreme Court or the government—or anyone else, for that matter- tries to sort out the problem of the fast-spreading virus of hatred in the society, not much can be expected if the men and women, who present TV ‘shows’ are so deeply inflicted by the virus. ###
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