Does the right to freedom of speech permit spreading hatred?

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India Tomorrow

NEW DELHI—The INDIA Opposition Alliance, a coalition of 28 political parties, has publicly named 14 prominent television anchors and announced a boycott of their programs. The anchors are Aman Chopra from Network 18, Prachi Parashar from IndiaTV, Rubika Liaquat from Bharat 24, Chitra Tripathi from Aaj Tak, Sudhir Chaudary from Aaj Tak, Amish Devgan from News18, Arnab Goswami from Republic Bharat, Navika Kumar from Times Network, Anand Narasimhan from CNN-News18, Gaurav Sawant from India Today Group, Aditi Tyagi from Zee News, Sushant Sinha from Times Now, Ashok Srivastava from DD News and Shiv Aroor from India Today.

This is probably the first time that the Opposition has been so vocal and decisive about calling out TV anchors who allegedly spread hatred in their shows. Issuing a boycott call to these specific 14 anchors has triggered a debate on the issue of “freedom of the press” with the ruling party calling the boycott a “derogatory mentality which hinders freedom of expression”. The BJP issued a statement calling the Opposition Alliance as “ghamandiya” (arrogant) and showed their dictatorial mentality.

Indian National Congress spokesperson defended the ban saying, “We have not banned, boycotted or blacklisted anyone. This is a non-cooperation movement, we will not cooperate with anyone spreading hatred in the society. We are not stopping them from spreading hatred. If you want to spread hatred, go ahead and do it. You have the freedom to do it. We also have the freedom not to be partners in that crime. They are not our enemies. We do not hate any of these friends of ours in the media. They may have their compulsions. And nothing is permanent, if tomorrow they realize that what they were doing is not good for India, not good for the society we are all together in this, we will again start attending their shows.”

It is undeniable that these anchors have repeatedly been accused of propagating hatred and pushing divisive narratives in their shows. They have been blamed for crossing all acceptable boundaries of journalistic ethics. Instead of critiquing those in power and acting as “watchdogs” of democracy these anchors and their channels consistently supported the ruling party and the government, even in cases where the press and journalists themselves were under attack. It is a fact that these anchors never attended or expressed support for protests against attacks on journalists, displaying a complete lack of solidarity with the larger “journalist community”. They thus earned for themselves the unflattering sobriquet of being “godi” media or “lapdog” media.

The decline of journalism in India accelerated since 2014. Once the owners and editors of newspapers and TV channels understood the requirements of those in power, they abandoned the emphasis on real investigative journalism and stopped investing time and resources in field stories. The rise of star anchors on primetime shows converted the TV media into a slanging match. Since the job of the anchors was to berate the Opposition and act as unofficial spokespersons of the ruling party, these anchors and editors started targeting the minority community to serve the overarching narrative being peddled by the forces that controlled the political space and who wanted to mould public opinion in a particular direction. While the boycott call by the INDIA Alliance has hurt the cause of those who peddle hate, it is doubtful if it can improve the surcharged climate of division and polarization prevailing in the country.

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