Observing that hate speech "completely poisons" the very fabric of the nation, the Supreme Court on Wednesday denounced their broadcast by TV news channels and wanted to know whether the government intends to enact a law to curb it in consonance with a Law Commission recommendation.
Noting that the role of the anchor is important during TV debates, the court said it's their duty to prevent hate speeches from happening.
"Hate speech completely poisons the very fabric of the nation," a bench of Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy observed and underlined the need for a regulatory mechanism to curb it.
The top court said hate speech can come in different forms and the concept of hate is that you can kill someone by ridiculing them on a continuous basis.
"The role of anchor (in TV debates) is very important. These speeches on mainstream media or social media is unregulated.
"Mainstream TV channels still hold sway. The role of anchor is critical and it's their duty to see that hate speech doesn't occur. Many a time those who want to speak are muted," it said.
The court said visual media has a huge influence as it exercises a very serious effect on the mind.
"When you run a programme and you run down any community, just look at what that person feels. Everybody belongs to this republic. We should foster those constitutional values. The TV channels are, in fact, trustees. When they do anything, their act and expressions all of it is transmitted. Everybody is watching it.
"We are one nation and everybody belongs to this nation. We need to have that feeling of fraternity which is part of the Preamble. The feeling of fraternity cannot be forged if we are fighting with each other," the bench noted.
The Supreme Court said it made reference to TV news channels because visual media has got a "devastating" effect and nobody cares what is written in newspapers as people are bereft of time to read.
"We made reference to TV news channels because the hate speech is through the visual medium. If somebody writes something in newspapers, nobody reads it nowadays. Nobody has time to read newspapers.
"Visual media has got the power which has been recognised right from cases relating to censorship. The difference between visual media and print media is so clear. It (visual media) has got a devastating effect," the bench observed.
During the hearing, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde submitted the TV industry is unregulated, prompting the court to say there should be a synchronised method to deal with the issue of hate speech and that the country needs to be a responsible democracy where there is accountability.
The apex court expressed dissatisfaction over steps taken by the government to check hate speeches and asked orally, "Why is the government remaining a mute spectator?”
The bench directed the Union of India to make clear its stand as to whether it intends to enact a law on the Law Commission's recommendations for prohibiting incitement of hate speech.
The top court was hearing a batch of petitions about hate speech and rumour-mongering.
It appointed lawyer Sanjay Hegde as amicus curiae and asked him to collate the responses of the states to the petitions.
Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj submitted that 14 states have already filed their responses.
The top court will resume hearing the matter on November 23.