Combating Hate Speech And Demanding Ethical Journalism

Hate speech is a threat to the very idea of inclusiveness and pluralism—to the endeavor of working and living together, which is intimately connected with the Preamble to the Indian Constitution

The Campaign Against Hate Speech or Hate Speech Beda in Kannada has created an extensive report to document the amplification of hate speech in recent times that will be useful in efforts to create a more informed citizenry. The Campaign Against Hate Speech is a collective comprising lawyers, researchers, activists, students, and professionals seeking to challenge and confront hate speech by sections of media, public personalities, and on social media. The campaign has worked to ensure compliance by media companies to law and ethics regarding hate speech. The collective has stressed that an informed citizenry that demands ethical journalism and responsible behavior from its politicians is the only real way forward to address the problems of hate.

Members of Tablighi Jamaat were stuck in Delhi during Corona Pandemic. Courtesy: AFP

This year, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen not just an outbreak of the virus but also one of hate. What started with the demonization of Tablighis has become a widespread sentiment against the entire Muslim community. This has been possible through the spread of fake news, misinformation, and hate speech, produced and amplified by traditional news media and social media.


Shaheen Bagh
Grandmas of Shaheen Bagh, who stood against the anti citizenship amendment act even in the harsh winter of Delhi

The extent of hate speech and new lows that public discourse reached during the pandemic is shocking, but it is important to remember that before the pandemic, hate speech was directed towards so-called anti-nationals, a pejorative term for anyone who challenged the mainstream. Public imagination had been gripped by the country-wide protests taking place across the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act. Sections of print and televisual media had directed much energy to delegitimize the protests by terming them as either violent, a conspiracy, or a threat. Such concerted media coverage that utilized hate speech as arsenal gave ample encouragement for targeted violence against dissenters, including university students in Delhi.

In light of this rise, the Campaign Against Hate Speech has presented a report documenting and analyzing the phenomenon of hate speech, the place of hate speech in a free society, and how to respond to hate speech. The report, which focuses on hate speech as observed in print and television news in Kannada, is composed of five sections.

What is Hate Speech?

For a free society, speech must be completely free. Hate speech is speech that makes free speech impossible. For a free society, people should be free to, in the words of constitutional scholar Gautam Bhatia, “shock, disturb, or offend.” This cannot happen when the basic rights of human beings are constantly under threat.

Threats to life, call for a social or economic boycott, and questioning the basic rights of people who disturb, shock, or offend, makes free speech impossible. Hate speech can also include challenging the very existence of certain classes of people, and is often directed towards minorities, saying that they do not have the right to exist in this country.

Hate speech is a threat to the very idea of inclusiveness and pluralism—to the endeavor of working and living together, which is intimately connected with the Preamble to the Indian Constitution through the terms, secularism, and fraternity. Hate speech is an assault to the dignity of individuals, which also finds a place in the Indian Constitution through Articles 14, 15, 16 and 17, all of which emphasize equality and non-discrimination.

How Did Hate Speech Become Such a Virulent Force in Karnataka? 

While progressive voices in Karnataka in the 1970s and 1980s tended to focus on poverty and inequality, they could not respond to the growth of hate groups that were growing across the state. The groups organized people and made inroads into the media. Making use of the social power of upper-caste male voices in Kannada media, the news began to present a more conservative outlook. Since the early 2000s, there has been a proliferation of corporate-run media outlets, who drove the discourse through newspapers and television news channels with vested economic interests.

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While there have been examples of fine news establishments, finance has been a constant struggle for those outside of corporate control. Over the past decade, state and political advertisement has become an important source of revenue, complicating the matter further. The reliance on advertisements, the conservative presence in the newsroom, and the organization by hate groups created an ideal environment for hate politics, biasing the news in favour of the political advertisers and against people who might raise a voice against it.

Hate Speech in Media in 2020

The report by Campaign Against Hate Speech analyses nine cases in 2020 where media reportage manufactured and amplified hate speech. These cases have involved boycott of essential needs, home demolition, threats of life, and calls for the eradication of communities.

The report notes the following patterns:

    1. Individuals are often defamed and subjected to demeaning stereotypes.

    2. Reportage on such stories often include speculations without evidence, leading to wild conspiracy theories

    3. Hate groups with recorded history are often given substantial space without any critical engagement.

    4. Reportage include passionate calls for action, at the expense of the quest for truth.

    5. The abandonment of truth is often accompanied by the promotion of mob justice and disregard of due process.

    6. Fake news and half-truths are often covered

The report also looked at the reportage of the Tablighi Jamaat and showed cases where there have been unchallenged calls for genocide.

This hate speech has had an immense effect on human beings. People had lost their homes. Lives have been under threat. Families have been attacked. People presumed innocent by courts have been arrested with no new charge, and sometimes, even trials could not be conducted because of calls for a social boycott. In one case during the nation-wide lockdown, people who came carrying much-needed relief supplies faced social boycott, undoing their charitable cause.

Germany to Rwanda to India: Hate Speech Fueled Genocide

The consequence of ignoring hate speech can be understood from four cases- The Nazi Pogroms in the 1930s-1940s, the Genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda in 1993-94, the Godhra Pogroms of 2002, and the Delhi pogroms this year on 23 -26 February 2020.

When looking at Germany, the report makes the point that Julius Streicher, who ran a Nazi paper ‘Dur Sturmer,’ was also convicted of crimes against humanity, though he did not take part in the mass-murders, as he wrote 26 articles to incite the German people to Genocide.

When looking at Rwanda, when in a three month period, 8,00,000, or 70% of the Tutsi people were exterminated, the report highlights observations by the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda on the role of the media and its role in amplifying hate speech.

Regarding Gujarat, the report illustrates the literature calling for a strict economic boycott of Muslims, rape of Muslim women, and annihilation of the entire Muslim community, and describing methodologies of attack circulating in parts of Gujarat.

Regarding Delhi, where 53 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, hundreds more were injured, the report points out that such violence is still very close to us, and how especially now in times of national panic, it is important to continue the fight against hate speech.

Common to all the cases considered is the question of accountability, especially in India, which has a long history of hate-based violence. The pogroms of partition, 1983 in Nellie, 1984 in Delhi or the pogrom following the Babri Masjid destruction, are instances of impunity for the perpetrators. The violence in Delhi 2020 offers new challenges, as the country is already in a state of panic, making systems of accountability hard to access or scrutinize.

Finally, the report covers the legal and constitutional aspects of hate speech and draws out how hate speech can be combated using the law. The report also includes instructions for common citizens who observe hate speech, showing how they can also take up the struggle against hate speech on their own.

The article is the summary of the report released by the campaign against hate speech (Hate Speech Beda) on 8th Sept 2020. You can find the full report here.


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May 2024



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