Freedom of speech is a basic human need. In spite of what goes on the ground, it is universally protected across national borders. But just like everything pure, freedom of speech is being corrupted by hate speech. An immediate response is required from governments to take a stance and curb its after-effects.
This puts Pakistan in a precarious situation. The first country was the first to be formed in the name of religion. The independence from British rule put it in the centre of Afghanistan, Iran, China and India. It is the melting point of different cultures and traditions.
Since the division of the subcontinent, Pakistan and India have been engaged in three wars. Meanwhile, verbal between the two neighbouring states have continued over Kashmir. Islamabad has given China access to Shaksam valley, part of the Pakistan administered Kashmir. India has not agreed with the access and still stakes its claims to it. Kashmir being the disputed land and is the most militarized area on the whole planet, gives access to Pakistan in east and China gets access to the Arabian sea and Indian ocean, in essence, the world!
The geography of the region makes it interesting. India, China and Pakistan meet at Siachen glacier, which is the second-largest non-polar glacier in the world. This is probably the most tensed border in the world. With Gwadar port being under massive renovations allows Pakistan access to the Indian ocean directly without India blocking its way and entering into Indian’s jurisdiction of the Arabian Sea. Pakistan with Chinese alliance is strengthening the country’s position for international transport and independence in its course.
Through careful manoeuvring of the law, the status of Kashmir changed over time. Making it more arguable but less tensed. It was agreed upon as disputed land, mentioned as Pakistan occupied, and Indian occupied. To care for the sensitivities of people attached to the land of Kashmir it went through another adjustment hence calling it, Pakistan administered part, and Indian administered region.
During all this time, verbal battles in media have been militarised through certain poignant ethics. At the centreare laws for freedom of speech and the grey area of hate speech. Recent legislative changes in India and the government’s use of media as a propaganda tool has boiled over.
Emotions bear no borders and obey no authorities. Recently, Republic TV’s prime time show “Poochta Hai Bharat” was accused by UK media regulators for Hate Speech and the show is now banned in the country. It was imposed a fine of $27,103 (€22,200) on the license holder of pro-government Indian news channel, Republic TV, for breaching broadcasting code.
According to its schedule, the program was, to begin with a discussion over the topic of India’s attempt to land a spacecraft on the moon and all the same time it also included an extended debate over India-Pakistan relations. Among so many other things, the show somehow managed to include guests’ sentiments or India’s space programme, the Kashmir issue, and “Pakistan’s alleged involvement in terrorist activities against Indian targets”. All in one.
UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom said that the show had violated sections 2.3, 3.2 and 3.3 of the Broadcasters’ Code by airing material that included “hate speech, abusive and derogatory treatment of individuals, groups, religions or communities and offensive content”. Ofcom’s report “found that this program contained uncontextualized hate speech and that this content was potentially highly offensive.”
In its decision, Ofcom based its decision on: “Due to the serious nature of these breaches we are considering imposing a statutory sanction”. The ruling was simple and straightforward as the program, host, and the guest went in the flow of hate and conveniently managed to express their views for Pakistani people as pure and absolute terrorists.
Arnab Goswami’s hate-fueled rhetoric will be remembered for this: “We make scientists, and you make terrorist.” And “their scientists, doctors, their leaders, politicians all are terrorists, even their sportspeople, every child is a terrorist over there. You are dealing with a terrorist entity.”
One guest also described Pakistani scientists as “thieves,” while another described Pakistani people as “beggars”. Just going ten minutes in the program and you find General K. K. Sinha comment: “an expression of hatred and desire to kill by a figure of authority” and would express his wish for violence against the Pakistan as he continues to say, “We will douse you with 1.25kg, .75kg-, with two inches. PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), PoK, we are coming to the PoK. We are coming to the Gilgit, Baltistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa… We are going to come, be ready. People in your country are shivering with fear that the Indian army may come. We will barge inside your home in Baluchistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Karachi, in your area, in Multan, in Rawalpindi and kill you. From Lahore, from Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan when we will have control.”
Spreading the words of hate and intent for violence against every Pakistani, just on the base of their nationality was openly accepted and raised by participants of the program. Ofcom has to be lauded in its decision as it tries to nip this in the bud.
“We considered however that these statements, made by a retired Major General from the Indian Army, which clearly threatened that the Indian military would attack Pakistani civilians in their homes, were an expression of hatred and desire to kill by a figure of authority. In our view, the broadcast of these statements also promoted hatred and intolerance towards Pakistani people.”
“We considered these statements to be expressions of hatred based on intolerance of Pakistani people based on their nationality alone, and that the broadcast of these statements spread, incited, promoted and justified such intolerance towards Pakistani people among viewers,” the regulator added.
In addition to the program referring to Pakistanis as “terrorists,” “beggars,” “thieves” and “backward,” as well as comparing them to donkeys, they were also referred to as “Paki.”
Due to the intense debate by the retired general of India and his intentions were clear to incite violence against Pakistani people. For this reason, the channel is directed not to repeat the program.
However, Worldview Media brushed it aside and claimed certain sentences were mere figure of speech, not to be taken literally. But when words are spoken the get out of the control of their bearer. As many ears it falls on, as many meanings it may generate, and the consequences will be felt equally by the world either it was Asian phrases or any other language.
Not to forget that this is the third time that Ofcom has found Republic breaching its broadcasting code, and it is the first time that the regulator has issued a fine. Ofcom has taken a stance to a “a racist term that is highly offensive and unacceptable to a UK audience.”
The only positive note that thing came after the fine and sanctions is that the network would ensure content relating to Pakistan and India will be reviewed before broadcast along with other steps. While British audiences will get a reprieve from the hate speech of Republic TV, the channel will probably continue its rhetoric in other areas.
The channel was launched with the favor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and had Hindu nationalism at its center in 2017. The host Arnab Goswami has been accused of using very irresponsible language and aggressive debates that are inflammatory and often deemed Islamophobic.
Interestingly, this is not the channel’s only brush with the law. Earlier this month, the chief executive of Republic Media Network was arrested in the Indian city of Mumbai for allegedly manipulating viewership for its channels.
For residents of Pakistan and India, embroiled in local and international politics, another war seems to be on the horizon. The borders of both countries are secure and the new front is on social media, which has a greater impact on the psychology of people and their real lives. Hate begets hate and our words have become our responsibility.