‘If action is taken against news anchors or their management, all will fall in line…’, the Supreme Court observed on TV news content.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday lamented the lack of control over TV news content, saying hate speech was a “huge menace” and India needed a “free and balanced media”. The Supreme Court said that nowadays everything is controlled by TRP (Television Rating Points) and channels are competing with each other thereby creating division in the society. If a TV news anchor is found to be complicit in spreading hate speech, then why should he not be removed from the air, the court asked.

The court noted that unlike print media, news channels do not have a Press Council of India. ‘We want freedom of speech, but at what cost,’ it said. A bench of Justices KM Joseph and Justice BV Nagaratna, hearing petitions seeking a ban on hate speech across the country and action against the perpetrators, said hate speech has become a big menace. This has to stop.’

Expressing concern over ‘media trial’, the bench pointed to a recent incident in an Air India flight where a woman passenger allegedly urinated on her when a man “said her name”. Media workers should understand that he is still being investigated and should not defame him. Everyone has dignity. Justice Joseph said that TV channels are competing with each other on the basis of TRP of news coverage.

“They sensationalize everything and create division in society because of the visible element. Unlike newspaper, visual media can affect you a lot and unfortunately the audience is not mature enough to see that kind of content.’

Justice Nagaratna said that action can be taken against the management of TV channels if they are found violating the program code by promoting hate speech. We want a free and balanced media in India,” he said.

A lawyer representing the News Broadcasters Association claimed that thousands of complaints have been received in the last one year and action has been taken against the channels. In a program which is telecast live, the bench said the anchor is the key to the fairness of the programme. If the anchor is not fair, dissenting votes are not allowed by silencing the speaker or asking questions from the other side. It is a symbol of prejudice.’

It said, ‘How many times has action been taken against the presenter? Journalists must realize that they are in positions of great power and influence in society. They cannot be part of the problem. Justice Joseph said that if action is taken against the news anchor or his management, everyone will fall in line.

Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the Centre, told Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj that freedom of speech and expression is a very important and delicate matter and the government should act without interfering in it. Nataraj said the Center is aware of the problem and is considering amending the Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC) to deal with the menace of hate speech.

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