The title has nothing to do with the post, but then again I'm an old-school journalist who has seen the strange ways of the desk, where headlines involved stringing together adjectives and verbs in really bizarre combinations. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, televisions high and mighty have been debating the ethics (or not) of sting operations in the light of the recent case of the 'non-sting' and they all pretty much whole-heartedly agree in a convoluted manner that sting operations are good, but they should not be mis-used. Not a single one suggests any redressal mechanism or having a set of policies in place to prevent the abuse of the medium.
See, as a commenter on the last post pointed out, we already have the Press Council of India which is there to regulate the functioning of newspapers/magazines and news agencies in India while maintaining their freedom. The PCI Act which was instituted in 1978 in the wake of Sanjay Gandhi's censorship regime during the Emergency is a fairly comprehensive act and has in a way contributed to the development of the media in India. Of course, some believe that the PCI is toothless - heck, according to their website - rather respectable publications such as Outlook Money and Traveller and Businessworld still owe them money - laughably small sums (Rs 600 in the case of Outlook Traveller). But the act does have this provision and I quote...
Power to Censure
14(1) Where, on receipt of a complaint made to it or otherwise, the Council has reason to believe that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards of journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, the Council may, after giving the newspaper, or news agency, the editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard, hold an inquiry in such manner as may be provided by regulations made under this Act and, if it is satisfied that it is necessary so to do, it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist, as the case may be :
Provided that the Council may not take cognizance of a complaint if in the opinion of the Chairman, there is no sufficient ground for holding an inquiry.
(2) If the Council is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in public interest so to do, it may require any newspaper to publish therein in such manner as the Council thinks fit, any particulars relating to any inquiry under this section against a newspaper or news agency, an editor or a journalist working therein, including the name of such newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.
(3) Nothing in sub-section (1) sha11 be deemed to empower the Council to hold an inquiry into any matter in respect of which any proceeding is pending in a court of law.
(4) The decision of the Council under sub-section ( I ), or sub-section (2), as the case be, shall be final and shall not be questioned in a court of law.
Now, the fact remains that people would rather turn to the convoluted and abused legal system for redress rather than the PCI - but as sub-section (4) mentions, the decision of the PCI is final. Of course, the PCI cannot either fine or imprison editors, reporters or publishers for malafide intent, which is what happened in this case.
I do believe that if malafide intent is proven, people should be imprisoned, after all if I try to hurt someone physically I can be jailed, why should the same not apply if i try to hurt someone through an article. However, very often, and this is particularly the case today, many journalists are for lack of a better word - dumb. And I mean Editors too, maybe not in places like the Times or NDTV, but at small hack-shops like Live India, you'll be working with a bunch of stupid scumbags, then what? You can't sue someone for being stupid can you? Though, shutting down a channel run by people with an IQ of under 25 might be a good start.
Should the PCI be allowed to fine news organisations, or if malafide intent is proven can the accuser go to court for civil damages? If Uma Khurana proves that 'LiveIndia' ruined her reputation and standing can she take the TV channel to the cleaners? I believe she should. The PCI Act needs some modifications to deal with emerging media trends, because the way we consume news is changing dramatically, and the media should be kept under a leash. Heck, business publications in India are more scared of SEBI than they are of the PCI - so would giving the PCI more teeth and giving it a more meaningful executive committee which includes active journalists and not retired bureaucrats and assorted losers might be a start.
I'll be having a chat with a friend of mine who is a fairly accomplished 'sting' reporter over the week, will keep you posted on the conversation. And as one letter asked - are no-poaching agreements legal? Well, I'ld like some comments on that by email if you guys have anything to say!
Another question - Do you believe the breaking of the Geetanjali Nagpal story by Metro Now (why does the site not work) was a publicity stunt? I don't think so, I believe it is a fantastic tabloid story, the first really good story broken by Metro Now, exposed the fashion fraternity for the hypocrites they are I remember this wonderful quote from a model - "Are you implying that there are drugs in the fashion industry!" - something I am still laughing over. And honestly, picking up someone of the street and helping them to a better life isn't a bad thing, heck if she has a husband and a son, even better. Tabloid journalism? For sure, but this was in my humble opinion good tabloid journalism.