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QOTD: Are sting operations a necessary evil?

Sep 08, 2007 09:24 AM IST India India

New Delhi: A so-called sting operation carried out by Live India TV on a Delhi school teacher for allegedly luring her pupils into prostitution has now been revealed to be completely fabricated. In fact, police say, after viewing the entire Live India TV footage, that the teacher in the tape is innocent, simply a victim of media entrapment. Though the journalist responsible for the 'expose' has now been arrested, the incident is an example of how a sting operation can go wrong and become an exercise in trapping an innocent person. Instances over the years have shown that though sting operations do expose corruption in some cases, sometimes they seriously violate the rules of journalism in the pursuit of profit and short-term sensationalism. To avoid falling into that trap, do sting operations need a code of conduct? That was the topic of discussion on the show Face The Nation on CNN-IBN. To discuss the issue on the show was former Samata Party president, Jaya Jaitley; senior journalist, Nalini Singh; and Editor CNN-IBN Special Investigations, V K Shashikumar. Sting Operations: A Necessary Evil? Many would consider sting operations a necessary evil in a country like India, where there is no accountability and corruption is rampant. However, Jaya Jaitley disagreed with the view saying, "I don’t think sting operations are the answer to India's problems. This is a case of vigilantism — creating a crime, hanging the person in public and making money out of it." She was of the view that exposes become a money-making operation, ignoring the context and merely driving TRPs in TV channels. However, V K Shashikumar begged to disagree, saying that most of journalism was investigative in nature. " A 'sting' is a tool and not an end. Sting operations have to be carried out within ethical parameters and it is up to the channel and the editors to set those parameters," he said. He stated that there were many public interest issues that sting operations take up, for example amputation of beggars’ limbs, trafficking in women and children. However, despite the social relevance in some cases, Jaya Jaitley insisted that those carrying out sting operations cannot become judges and take the law into their own hands. "Are we saying that the entire police and Government machinery is unresponsive? If a person who wants to change society approaches the concerned authorities and they do not respond, then I can understand. But it should be done only as a last resort,” she said. Only India Calling Foul? In no other country are sting operations allowed. In the US for example, it is only the federal government that has the right to use a hidden camera and the FBI alone. "The BBC conducts sting operations. It exposed how white British policemen target racial minorities. A lot of American news networks use legitimate sting operations. There is a protocol one has to follow. You need to dig up a lot of documents and evidence. In a TV sting operation, we need audio-visual evidence. And what if the police and beauracracy are part of our crime? How do we expose that? We can only do that by generating enough documentary evidence," said V K Shashikumar. However, Jaitley shot back saying, "India is not the worst country in such respects. There is a lot of rubbish in other countries too. I can still understand CNN-IBN doing a sting operation in all seriousness where there is protocol, investigation and care, but today, you can have absolutely anybody doing a sting operation." PAGE_BREAK "For example, in one cricket expose, there was no journalist involved but just a disgruntled cricketer, Manoj Prabhakar, who carried out his own operation. In the Tehelka expose, there was Samuel Mathews who was a fraud posing as a journalist," she added. There are sting operations that are carried out by players, and the BMW case is an example of that where a witness carried it out. Jaitley said that this may result in taking away the credibility from the story. However, defending players being involved in sting operations, Shashikumar said sometimes an insider was needed to break into the system. "But behind the insider, there is rigorous editorial supervision or at least there should be," he said. Jaitley countered this saying that editorial supervision was not the only thing that was needed. Laws too, should be strengthened in this regard. "If there is no code then all earnest investigations get tainted with the same colour," Shashikumar agreed. "We have a law of defamation which is so utterly useless. So it certainly needs to be strengthened. All journalists, Editors’ guild and the Press Council along with victims who have done research on it should sit down and agree upon a code of conduct and follow it. Each channel cannot have their own code because then there will be a huge clash," Jaitley added. Both panelists meanwhile, agreed that the best person to come up with a code of conduct would certainly not be the Government. Nalini Singh put in her word in this regard and said something was finally closing in on electronic journalism. "Maybe we have asked for it. But in the present incident it appears to me that there were definite vested interests. However, I think sting operations are completely justified if they are carried out with the protocol that has been talked about. But the channel who has defaulted in this case needs to come clean to the public. I would expect a long article on the issue tomorrow morning. But the Delhi government should also think of the knee-jerk reaction in dismissing her. We cannot promote such a thing we must condemn it," she said. V K Shashikumar, at this point said that a protocol was essential to allow good journalism to flourish, to question policymakers and the government. Nonetheless, despite saying earlier that a law was needed to regulate sting operations, Jaya Jaitley changed her mind and said that sting operations were unnecessary. "Sting operations are ugly. All I’m saying is that please, everybody get together and make a code of conduct before the Government bludgeons because this should never be in the Government's hands to do so," she concluded. SMS poll results: Yes: 86 per cent No: 14 per cent