We know that the home secretary gave permission to tap Niira Radia's telephone on the basis of "specific information received" by the Central Board of Direct Taxes. We do not as yet know what and why, though as the judiciary gets involved, those questions will slowly be answered. Yet, in this age of ever-freer information and WikiLeaks, we cannot be surprised that those conversations, once recorded, were somehow leaked. And, in a simple telling of the story, that leak revealed exchanges between the media, the private sector, and political parties, causing many to throw their hands up in the air, and declare the profession hopelessly compromised. That simple story, however, conceals as much as it reveals.
The transcripts have laid bare specific cases in which professional boundaries have been blurred. A cynical and pessimistic reading would be that India's pugnacious, free, fast-growing media is universally complicit, that closeness to corrupt centres of power has corrupted it in turn. Such a reading, however, would be as mistaken as would be completely ignoring the danger signals evident in a few individuals' behaviour. The media in India is an institution with thousands and thousands of people doing an honest, competent, professional job. Half a dozen journalists, with apparently varying degrees of indiscretion, do not an institution make. For this reason, The Indian Express has a stringent code of ethics that is incorporated in the contract signed by all journalists the group employs.