Popular TV Anchor and the Chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami was attacked by unnamed men on Wednesday night that brought the country’s attention back to the debate of free speech and hate speech. While many have called for solidarity with Arnab to restore freedom of the press, it is important to uphold the spirit of the press as well.
In the last four days, multiple FIRs were filed against Arnab Goswami for allegedly propagating hate through his daily broadcast. The broadcasts in question were the reportage of Palghar lynching and the Bandra gathering of migrant laborers. In reporting the Bandra gathering of stranded migrant laborers, Goswami suggested them to be of one particular religion and alleged that they are conspiring against the government. He even went on to say that the migrant laborers were ‘paid actors’ completely dehumanizing them and their plight.
The Incident in Question
During the reportage of Palghar lynching, Goswami showed no restraint in holding the Muslim community accountable for the crime while there was no evidence of it. The following day, the Maharashtra Home Ministry put out all the names of the accused in the horrific crime to categorically prove that there wasn’t any Muslim involved in the crime. Later in the broadcast, he questioned the silence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi of maintaining silence about the situation.
Interestingly, the FIRs, mostly filed by congressmen, came only after the personal attack on Gandhi and seemed more about it than the reportage itself. In a shocking turn of events, Goswami was allegedly attacked by unnamed men who he claims to be of the Youth Congress. Two accused were arrested while Goswami held Sonia Gandhi responsible for the attack.
India, as always, was divided in their opinions with respect to the attack. While some saw merit in the arguments of Goswami, the victim, the others dismissed it to be a ‘stunt’. Although the attack was categorically condemned by a section, they believe that Arnab has fallen prey to his own trap of hate. Ironically, India has again been dragged to the debate of free speech against hate speech during a pandemic.
Many argue that Arnab’s reportage was merely him exercising his freedom of expression. Some say it absolutely qualifies as hate speech. As expected, there were few on the borderline as well. Let us view it through the laws in the Constitution.
Free Speech in the Constitution
In its Constitution, India grants freedom of speech and expression under certain clauses. These clauses restrict a person to exercise his free speech that would damage – sovereignty & integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with a foreign state, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt of court and defamation or incitement to an offense.
Hate Speech in the Constitution
As per the constitution of India, speech that displays disrespect to a citizen on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community. The law specifically restricts a citizen from outraging someone’s religious feelings.
So, was it hate speech?
It is common to an average Indian to find the above-mentioned laws as arbitrary and abstract which it is. While someone’s “feelings” can be subjective, the laws of free speech and hate speech will never be viewed objectively. This is where the confusion begins and ends. Except that the people who framed our Constitution had an objective.
Indian Constitution, despite its arbitrariness, is heavily dependent on context. The text is not rigid but flexible and open to interpretation. In that way, it is one of the most liberal constitutions. Another important thing the Constitution does is to trust the democratic system to deliver justice and make the system less dependent on the Constitution itself. It empowers the democratic institutions and expects it to make the judgment based on the context.
In the case of Arnab Goswami, while he has all the right under the constitution to have an opinion, he does not have the right to misquote facts to propagate his opinion. To be precise, Goswami reporting that Palghar lynching was carried out by Muslim community and saying the Muslim community is conspiring against the government, on national television, without any evidence to back it, induces hate and definitely qualifies as hate speech under the Indian Constitution’s clause of disrespecting an individual based on their religion. This also is true for the migrant laborer reportage as well.