Book Review – Free Speech vs. Hate Speech

Nazish Hena Khan*

(* UGC Junior Research Fellow, School of Mass Communication & Media Technologies, Central University of Jharkhand)

Prof. S.K. Tewari’s book ‘Free Speech vs. Hate Speech‘ is his journey into the lanes and by-lanes of a highly contentious and controversial topic, more debatable during the general elections period than other times. The author has made a significant contribution to knowledge and scholarship.

Prof. Tewari is currently a Professor at the Centre for Mass Communication, Central University of Jharkhand, Ranchi, and has recently been awarded Emeritus Fellowship 2016-17 by the UGC.

“Should all kinds of speech be legally protected at any cost?” is often the question. Some people advocate that without unrestricted and uncensored freedom of speech, a democratic society will perish. Still, there are others who support free speech but feel that under certain situations this freedom should be limited.

The book is priced at Rs. 300/- and is published by  AS Research and Learning Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Ghaziabad, on behalf of IASE Deemed University, Gandhi Vidya Mandir, Sardarshahar, Churu, Rajasthan. The book is primarily based on the author’s research project which was part of the University’s several interdisciplinary research projects on existential harmony.

Professor Tewari’sresearch is a seminal one in three respects.

Firstly, it highlights that our mainstream media as well as governments do not take notice of a large scale hate speech going on in the country. Mainstream media is largely busy with the hate speeches delivered by people like Raj Thackeray, Akbaruddin Owaisi, and Praveen Togadia. The book also explores why hate speech mongers go unpunished. It argues that the hate speeches, which go unnoticed, are a greater threat to the social and religious harmony of the country as they promote terrorism and attract young people towards organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram, etc.

Secondly, the author reveals that hate speech is nowhere defined in our panel laws. Even major political parties of the country didn’t turn up when a stakeholders’ meeting was called by the Law Commission of India at the suggestion of the Supreme Court. This simply indicates that our major political parties are not showing sufficient interest in the subject matter.

Thirdly, the book introduces for the first time in India, the concept of existentialism in Indian journalism and also proves that Mahatma Gandhi was an existential journalist. And finally, because the book has been written with clarity and precision and illustrated with examples that bring the realities of hate speech to life.

The book is organized into eight chapters. In the introductory chapter, Professor Tewari traces the development of existentialism which he says is primarily a 20th-century phenomenon. One of the essential requirements for the development of existentialism is freedom of speech. Until the term ‘free speech’ was firmly established in the world of philosophy, the term ‘existentialism’ did not occur. This chapter also explains the basic philosophies for and against freedom of speech which has been abused and misused to propagate falsehood and hate speech.

In Chapter Two, the author infers that despite the race for earning more and more profit, print media, particularly of regional language, still provides scope where an ordinary person, poor and oppressed, can get his voice heard. With this ray of hope, the need for press freedom continues in India.

The need for a new business model that should be free from the pressure of advertisers is elaborated in Chapter three.

Chapter four entitled ‘Mahatma Gandhi: An Existential Journalist’ makes the reader aware of the concept of existential journalism. It discusses the influence of Henry David Thoreau’s writing on Mahatma Gandhi. It also establishes Mahatma Gandhi as an existential journalist who tried to create harmony between different groups of society as well as with nature, without losing his ethical values.

“Hate speech is not defined in our statutes.” Prof. Tewari addresses this issue in an in-depth manner in Chapter five.

Chapters six and seven explore the topic further by giving valuable insights from the perspective of the stakeholders’  in-depth interviews. Professor Tewari has interviewed a number of scholars and professionals including senior journalists such as Prof.  Achyutanand Mishra, Shri Balbir Dutt, and  Shri Dinesh Mishra, television professional Shri Omar Shadab Hashmi, German scientist, and physician Dr. H.J. Rudolph,  Head of the American branch of  Anand  Marg Acharya Vimalanand Avadhuta, an American Fulbright scholar and expert on creative writing Professor Richard N. Jahna, Professor of political science at Osmania University, Hyderabad Dr. K. Benjamin, Associate Professor (mass communication) Dr. Dev Vrat Singh, etc. Among his interviewees is a former UGC Professor Emeritus of political science at Calcutta University, Dr. Asok Mukhopadhyaya, who is a double Ph.D. – one from Calcutta University and the other from the London School of Economics and Political Science, London University.

After analyzing the interviews discussed in the seventh chapter, the author makes it clear that hate speech has several forms. It can be against a person like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose or Narendra Modi, or against an organization like RSS. It is not always communal.

The discussion throughout makes us think about just how much ‘free’ speech a multicultural and religiously diverse society can withstand while still retaining the social fabric of a good society. And that is a topic with which we should all engage.

Contents of the book are also available on http://www.adrpublications.com

 

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