The recent controversy over the Supreme Court order restraining a Hindi television channel from airing an ‘expose’ allegedly vilifying a religious community -- and the response of the Centre to the SC in an affidavit it filed responding to petitions against the controversial news programme -- highlights a few crucial factors about the way the business of information dissemination is conducted in India today. Post-liberalisation, India’s media industry has gone through a series of transformations thanks to factors such as easy availability of cutting-edge technologies, capital for the adoption of new technologies and business expansion. This trend came with its own pluses and minuses. Journalism was able to emerge from its austerity era to one that created media megalomaniacs and new enterprises flush with money -- millionaire scribes with ‘brand value’. Social media has changed the mass media game so much so that the personality cult phenomenon (our own Howard Beales) has spun out of control.

Some journalists have started believing in what the SC rightly termed ‘absolute journalistic freedom’ -- allowing their organisations to disrupt the role of established institutions for grievance redressal, maintenance of law and order and delivery of justice. The SC’s rap on the media should be seen as a moment for introspection. News channels must take measures to audit themselves periodically. They should assess whether their content goes against the secular spirit of the Constitution. The fact that it became necessary for the Supreme Court to take cognisance of irresponsible, inflammatory journalism — which has increasingly assumed centrestage in the media scene in India — reflects a sorry state of affairs. Such trends can lead to normalising state control over mass media. That cannot augur well for a democracy.

D eputy Editor