It is indeed a travesty that our society is propagating hate speech in the garb of free speech. It may sound harsh, but we cannot deny that the inability to distinguish between intellectual diversity and hate speech has brought us to this point.
These days, an opposing point of view is not accepted. Religion – which is pure in nature – is being used to achieve ulterior motives, such as labelling people traitors and terming their thoughts and ideas sinful. We seek guidance from the teachings of Islam on all occasions. But it is an unfortunate fact that we do not put them into practice in our daily lives, especially when they are needed the most.
Islam teaches about patience and forbearance. Dr Fazle Qadir Tarin writes in his book ‘Islam is misunderstood’ that “subject to merit, all human beings are equal in their rights as well as in social obligations [4:58, 49:13]. Therefore, the freedom of an individual ends where the freedom of others begins. Transgression of each other’s limit[s] of the freedom, such as forcibly imposing own opinion or ideology (faith, politics, culture) on others is ‘extremism’ (excess, zulm). Making the freedom of expression an excuse for ‘crossing own limit’ of the freedom is violation of human rights (zulm, crime) for it hurts the feelings of others”.
Today, this principle is not just restricted to the hateful sermons delivered by a group of radical minds but has also been extended to the mainstream media, which is now providing space for such content. This has been allowed to happen even though we have a penal code, which deals with offences related to the incitement to violence, and the National Action Plan – which seeks to curb the dissemination of hate material in any manner.
According to data compiled in August last year, more than 14,000 cases were registered on charges of disseminating hate speech and hate material. Though these details are extensive, questions have surfaced about the ‘media-coated’ hate speech which is being practised by a particular group of unscrupulous individuals.
The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) has set up a five-point test for journalists to assess the impact of hate speech. The first point involves examining the position or status of the speaker to determine how effectively he or she could influence people to achieve his or her motives. The second point considers the impact of hate speech by assessing how many people may be affected by a particular form of behaviour.
The third point explores why the hate speech is being made and what goals it achieves. The fourth point examines what the contents of the hate speech are and ascertains whether it is targeting people for sectarian, political or intellectual preferences. The fifth point explores the social, political and economic climate of the place where the hate speech is made.
If Pemra – which is currently equipped with weak legislation – incorporates these questions and guidelines, it will become easy to determine whether specific content qualifies as hate speech in a court of law or not.
Unfortunately, the media hates to regulate itself and whenever someone else steps in to fulfil this task, the resulting rebuke becomes almost inevitable.
The top echelons of the media have to realise that no corporate interest can justify content that propagates hatred. It is time mainstream media banned hate speech and compulsive liars. The protagonists and supporters of free media and fearless journalism need to stand up for the right cause this time because the deliberate confusion between free speech and hate speech can cost lives.
The writer works for Geo News.
Email: muneebfarooqraja gmail.com