INDIA’S electronic media, particularly the TRP-hungry news channels, has become synonymous with sensationalism. Truth and accuracy are the prime casualties when TV anchors and reporters stoop to new lows just to grab eyeballs. In a welcome intervention, the Supreme Court has restrained Sudarshan TV from telecasting episodes of its ‘Bindass Bol’ programme for two days. The channel has come up with a communally divisive conspiracy theory, dubbed ‘UPSC Jihad’, to show how Muslims have ‘infiltrated’ the Indian civil services. Under the garb of an investigative story on national security, the programme has been allegedly peddling blatant lies, claiming that the upper age limit in the civil services examination is 32 years for Hindus and 35 for Muslims, and that the latter can appear in the exam more number of times than the former.
Making a scathing observation that most of the channels are running for the sake of TRPs, the apex court has suggested that a panel of apolitical experts be set up to help in self-regulating the electronic media. Despite legislative checks and balances, the situation has only gone from bad to worse. Enacted in 1995, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act empowers the authorities to prohibit the telecast of programmes that are likely to cause communal discord. Last week, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had merely asked Sudarshan TV to ensure that its show did not violate the programme code, while ruling out pre-censorship.
The electronic media is already under judicial scrutiny over the no-holds-barred coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and the subsequent probe. The whole case has been reduced to a Bollywood potboiler. Citing freedom of speech to justify objectionable content is fraught with dangerous consequences. The Constitution authorises the State to impose ‘reasonable restrictions’ on the exercise of this right on the grounds of maintaining public order, decency, morality etc. With the State not doing the needful at times, the judiciary has taken upon itself the tough task of striking a balance between safeguarding free speech and other constitutional values. The rabble-rousing TV channels, in turn, should introspect why their credibility is in free fall.
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