A welcome move | Daily News

A welcome move

All right thinking citizens of this country, no doubt, would welcome the move by the Government to outlaw hate speech and the publication of false news by the media. Certainly, the recent incidents and the developments in its aftermath warrant such action. Today, hate speech has assumed monstrous proportions, with certain Bikkhus among the chief culprits.

According to our lead news item on Thursday, tough laws are to be introduced to crackdown on false news distribution and to curb hate speech, in a bid to reduce the current spate of conflict aggravating public messaging, according to the Government Information Department. It further stated that Cabinet approval had been granted for the revision of the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code enabling swift and stringent legal action against those who engage in false news distribution and hate speech. According to Acting Minister of Justice and Prison Reforms Ranjith Maddumabandara, anyone found guilty of spreading false news or hate speech, could face a fine up to Rs. one million, or a five year prison term, or both.

Already, there are howls of protests from sections of the private media which is understandable. It is an open secret that these media houses are catering to the needs of their political masters who have helped their owners amass humongous wealth in the past. Presently, with elections round the corner, these media houses are at full throttle. The Easter Sunday carnage couldn’t have come at a more propitious time for these TV channels to go flat out against the Government. This by in itself is acceptable. But what is not is the promotion of hate mongering by these private television channels in not so subtle ways thereby inciting communal passions. Strident speeches of Opposition politicians that are full of hate are being aired day in and day out, while media ‘shows’ featuring individuals fiercely opposed to the Government such as Bikkhu activists have now become a staple with these media institutions. A certain television outfit, well known for its unabashed devotion to the Rajapaksas, makes it certain that those they interview and invite for panel discussions are rabid opponents of the Government. A certain TV presenter of this channel, who is featured in a morning programme that reads out the newspaper headlines to the public, does not fail to present his own views and opinions that are slanted against the Government. The Easter Sunday terror strikes have made this particular channel up its ante. While underscoring the need for communal harmony and racial amity, on the one hand, this news presenter then goes on to demonstrate his communal bias by casting aspersions on the Muslim Ministers in the Government in a manner that divides the communities.

More often than not unverified and speculative news items that appear in the anti-Government publications are given prominence or blown out of proportion to convey the impression that what is being published is the truth and nothing but the truth. Needless to say, these news items are always to do with alleged security lapses on the part of the Government and the alleged terrorist links of the Muslim Ministers and MPs who are painted as villains. The alleged illegal sterilization of Sinhala women by a Muslim Gynaecologist, no doubt, has added grist to the mill, in the current hate campaign by the media, and is being sensationalized in a manner that cast all Muslims into pariah status.

The proposed law should clearly lay down the parameters of the offenses. We say this because today hate mongering takes several forms. There is hate spewed in the guise of political speeches and also passive acts that cause incitement such as the death fast carried out by the Ven. Rathana Thera. The monk’s act though harmless by itself, nevertheless, charged the entire atmosphere with communal feelings. On the other hand, there are direct acts that provoke hatred of the type practiced by the Ven. Galgodatte Gnanasara Thera though the Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary appears to have mellowed after his stint in the slammer. All these aspects should be considered when drafting the new law.

What about the hate speech that emanates from Parliament one would ask? If the whole idea is to prevent incitement to communal violence this should be enforced in the one place where hate is being spewed with monotonous regularity. Will the MPs be covered by Parliamentary privilege when hate speech are shown ‘live’ to the public? Certainly, the Speaker ought to take a decision on this score.

The question also arises as regards the penalty for hate speech and false news. In the case where the hate speech is aired on television will it be the television concerned or the maker of hate speech who be called to answer. As stated, the penalty for hate speech or false information is Rs. one million, or, five years imprisonment, or, both. Where the money is concerned, there is no question that the owners of private TV channels could more than afford to fork out. Hence, there should be a more drastic penalty that would really act as a deterrent. Ideally, it should be both, the money and prison term in conjunction. 

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