Friday, September 07, 2007

The non-sting!

In my last post I asked whether the Broadcast Bill, per se is such a bad thing? This was in the light of the haphazardly conducted sting operation by 'Live India' which now turns out to be fake. Of course, a friend at NDTV had told me on the day of the sting that Sudhir Chaudhary, the Editor-in-Chief of the channel did not have the what-would-you-call-it deep-rooted belief in ethics that say most normal journalists have (hah!). In fact, in turns out that both the Editor and the Reporter had tried to run this story at the former employers - India TV, where even that most sensational of channels, and no stranger to the 'honey trap' system decided against it.
Anyway, no point delving into the news, but what the fallout of this news item will be. I'm sure in the columns that will proliferate Edit and Op-Ed pages from tomorrow, there will be calls for the arrest of the editor, the reporter and the 'aspiring journalist' (and this leads to quite disturbing questions in its own right!) girl who posed as the prostitute. Fair enough, I agree with that - if AKB can be sentenced to one month's RI for 'criminal defamation' of a much less injurious nature (you did know this, didn't you?) these three should be locked up for a year at least and blacklisted from the profession. Not that some of these start-up channels really care who the hell they hire and this only made the news because it happened in Delhi and the newspapers decided to get to the bottom of the story. From the reports I've heard, in small-town TV channels such irresponsible reportage is like par for the course.
Which brings me back to the simple question - How can you control rogue journalists? I mean, lets be honest there will be rogues because its all about ratings and thus advertising and thus money? You need rules, and this incident will be used by PRDM to push through the Broadcast Bill, or at least used as an excuse. Now, the argument that NDTV and CNN-IBN will use is that it would be unfair to bring them under the purview of this act and governments that don't like these channels such as Mr Modi's will use this act to crack down upon them. Which is a very valid fear. This bill will also put in a a lot of needless bureaucracy. But you do need some sort of standards council where in case of conflict such things can be vetted - what is in the public good, what legal recourse people should take, heck, what standards should be followed! I don't believe Tehelka's and India TV's 'Honey trap' system is fair and is open to huge amounts of abuse - like Tehelka's relentless pursuit of politicians of a certain party.
But, things can't be this wild. To use an analogy - could the aviation boom in India happened without Air Traffic Control. You would not want pilots to compete with each other to land on the runway first and SpiceJet and Indigo chaps running their airlines like a Blueline Bus service (Delhi-wallah's will understand) ramming pedestrians left, right and centre. But, the Broadcast Bill is a bit draconian and the TV channels are saying that we don't want any rules at all. That is clearly an untenable situation, a compromise needs to be found. What it will be I have no clue, but honestly, the sooner it is found the better.
On another note, there is a strong rumour doing the rounds that Rajiv Verma, CEO, HT Media has quit/bee fired. If true, you really have to wonder what the hell is going on in that group! First the Editor and now the CEO. Phoren-Returns not working too well, I wonder if the Jain's, their managers and editors are sniggering!


Anonymous said...

what abt AKB being sentenced to one months' RI? Journos like me in Mumbai are not aware of this. Why not enlighten on this.

K said...

OK, the story goes that during the short time when AKB was Editor of The Pioneer between Vinod Mehta and Chandan Mitra an IAS Officer filed a Criminal Defamation case against him, teh publisher and a reporter for being 'supposedly' quoted out of context on a story regarding the Uttarakhand agitation. Now, people going to jail for Criminal Defamation sets a very dangerous precedent even if it was a CJM in Lucknow which sentenced him. Fair enough, it likely that the Sessions Court or HC will overturn this (and AKB has one month to file a response and 'influence' a hearing), but given that filing a 'Civil Defamation' case is an expensive process in India, most cases are that of Criminal Defamation. This case might be a small incident, but....

saurabh said...

I have an instinctive distrust for sting operations.

For one thing, it is difficult to certify the lack of any hidden agenda on the part of the operator.

For another, I consider it lazy journalism of the worst sort. The argument often advanced for sting operations is that it's very difficult to otherwise catch out corrupt officials and politicians and public figures doing their thing. But since when was journalism supposed to be easy?

And the methods used by operators, the use of prostitutes and honey traps, completely negate the ethical validity of the operation. In fact, in many countries, entrapment is a defence against police sting operations.

Wiki says, "...entrapment is a legal defense by which a defendant may argue that he or she should not be held criminally liable for actions which broke the law, because he/she was induced (or entrapped) by the police to commit those acts. For the defense to be successful, the defendant must demonstrate that the police induced an otherwise unwilling person to commit a crime."

" Sorrells v. United States (287 U.S. 435 (1932)) unanimously reversed the conviction of a North Carolina factory worker who gave in to an undercover Prohibition officer's repeated entreaties to get him some liquor. It identified the controlling question as 'whether the defendant is a person otherwise innocent whom the government is seeking to punish for an alleged offense which is the product of the creative activity of its own officials'."

TV channels often do exactly this when they conduct sting operations. Entice and cajole and induce. Virtually anyone off the street could be stung, judging by the inducements offered in some cases. Sting operations are a dubious method of rating a person's character, especially considering the kind of people who run them.

And something that annoys me is the dubious assumption that the sanctimonious, self-righteous, holier-than-thou media somehow has some has a right to ride roughshod over individual rights. Considering the kind of people who actually staff TV channels in this country, nobody in their right mind would ever concede the media any such rights.

Yes, it's difficult to catch the corrupt out through standard methods of journalism, and it's possible that judging from the flaky, two-bit calibre of sting operators, they'll actually never end up catching anyone by the practice of traditional journalism.

But if the shortcut means negating individual rights, it would be better for the media to be shackled by the Content Code.

thalassa_mikra said...

You know, the Tehelka stings I can live with because corruption is a public ethics issue. What I do not understand are the India TV stings against Shakti Kapoor and Aman Varma. So apparently it is a crime now to proposition a woman (and they weren't exactly doing a sex in exchange of film roles deal).

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W.T.F. Ittabari said...

why doesnt anyone talk about the role of the press council of india.. i know its a little bit of a joke.. but industries have to regulate themselves..

having plagiarized the press council's website for a research project in college, as far as i know on paper there are very definite standards defined for the conduct of journalists and mechanism to sort out violations of the same..

maybe you can post sometime on why these are defunct?

another thing.. you cant really blame tehelka for going after a particular party especially given their history..

Anonymous said...

Sir, u got the info wrong this time.. Rajiv is going nowhere, this has been asserted by none other than the Lady B.

Insider said...

The Lady B said pretty much the same thing regarding CK a few months before he was sent out to pasture. HT is bleeding money on several of their North India stations - where they are competing against the ToI's Dak edition and they are coming second! HT runs high-cost full-fledged bureaus at many of these centres!

Sonali said...
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