New Delhi: Can a journalist be “an instrument in perpetuation” of hate speech if he uploads a video of someone allegedly indulging in hate speech on social media? The Punjab and Haryana High Court is set to consider this question and has asked the state authorities to respond to it.
The question was raised by Justice Arvind Singh Sangwan Wednesday while hearing an anticipatory bail application filed by a lawyer, Amit Ghai, in a case of alleged hate speech.
Ghai had demanded that since the video clip where he was recorded making derogatory remarks against Nihang Sikh community was made and uploaded on social media by a journalist, the latter should also be considered a “perpetuator of the offence”.
Considering the submissions, Justice Sangwan appreciated the press for extending help to people during the Covid-19 crisis, observing: “Even in the present COVID-19 pandemic situation, this fourth pillar has done exceptionally commendable job in extending help to both, Government as well as needy citizens.”
He said: “Not only this, even social media is doing a great job in reaching out to the citizens who are in urgent need of help and all the citizens, whether known or unknown, are extending help to each other.”
However, the court added, “there is an exception to the general rule” and that “a micro percentage of media may not be that responsible in playing a positive role in nation building and instead of restraining to promote hate speeches, coverage, it airs sensational news”.
It then asked the director or additional director, Bureau of Investigation, Punjab, to examine the role of the journalist who uploaded the video clip, while responding to the questions raised by the court pertaining to whether a reporter can be considered as contributing to the crime in such a scenario.
The court asked the authorities to look into “whether aforesaid press reporter himself was an instrument in perpetuation of the crime as uploading a video clip on social media or electronic media may amount to promoting disharmony or feeling of hatred etc”.
The court also asked whether “a reporter, being a citizen, on coming to know that an offence is committed, is bound to inform the police before airing such information”.
The viral video clip
An FIR was registered against Ghai on 2 April under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, including Sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 298 (uttering words etc with deliberate intent to would religious feelings), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 505 (statements conducting public mischief), 124A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
This was after a video clip went viral on social media, which showed Ghai, along with co-accused Nishant Sharma, national president of Shiv Sena (Hindu), and Arvind Gautham, making allegedly derogatory remarks in a conference against Nihang Sikhs.
The video had been uploaded on Facebook and YouTube by Chief Editor of Punjab Kesari TV, Ajit Singh Buland.
However, Ghai now submitted that the video was edited and showed only “one sided version” and that it was not intended to hurt the religious sentiments of any community.
Submitting the entire text of the conversation at the conference, Ghai alleged that the clip was edited to sensationalise the incident. He, in fact, submitted that since the alleged speech was made at a place not accessible to the public in general and the recording was made by the reporter, Buland is a “perpetuator of the offence” himself.
“Learned counsel further submits that in the absence uploading the said video clip on social media by the said Press Reporter, it was a private affair amongst the members, who were the followers of Shiv Sena Hind and have a fundamental right of freedom of speech under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India,” the judge noted.
The court has now directed authorities to examine whether the original video recording as well as the edited clip amount to hate speech. In the meantime, it said, Ghai should be released on interim bail in case of an arrest.
The case will be next heard on 25 May.