Sting Operations: Beyond reproach?

Maverick: Stings that stink
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Sept. 18, 2007

Have sting operations changed anything? Have people stopped having their palms greased? Is there more awareness about wrongdoing? Are the culprits shunned by society?

You know the answers. They have, on the contrary, become even more important. Isn’t the woman politician who was "stung" a perennial commentator on panel discussions? Hasn’t the out-of-work villain, whose claim to fame was a string hanging from his pyjamas, now become a huge draw?

Let us not forget that the Antulay cement scandal and Bofors issues were brought to light long before sting operations became fashionable. These are perhaps the worst form of voyeurism because they come garbed in designer morality.

This has been brought out in the open rather swiftly in the recent case where a reporter of a Delhi television channel tried to expose a teacher for forcing her students into prostitution. It turned out to be fake. It was done on the prodding of a businessman as a planned strategy to hit out at the teacher for owing him Rs 100,000. He called up a reporter who we are told harangued her to make a few quick bucks by getting into the flesh trade and supply women. It is said she fell for this bait. A colleague of the reporter was sent as a potential girl ready for the job.

The whole story sounds bizarre. Would a woman in a respectable profession be so gullible as to get into criminal activity? If there is any truth, then why has it been labelled fake? This is not a big channel. Had it been one of those fancy ones, do you imagine anyone would have made such a noise about its lack of authenticity? The reporter has been arrested. I would like to know what is being done to the channel owners. This isn’t just a sensational story. It is about an issue that concerns women and any sensible person. Sting operators cannot get away with it.

Why do you think the new reporters are taking up snoopy journalism? To ensure that in future they can enter bedrooms and closets for their low-level scoops.

Is this about vigilantism at all? Two years ago, there was an exposé where 11 Members of Parliament were bribed to pose questions in the House. The website carried tape recorders and cameras to catch them red-handed and a TV channel aired what they thought was a complete travesty. These clippings were later shown in Parliament. Newspaper reports were dramatic: "Parliament was stunned into shamed silence."

Does Parliament feel no shame when elected members throw slippers and chairs at each other? Has no ministry ever been shamed for taking kickbacks by giving a contract to an undeserving company?

That sting operation in fact gave political parties a halo — they got the offending MPs to resign. They started talking about ethics. Senior politicians who have been corrupt and booked for scams were holding forth on the "indefensible" acts. The "exposé" did nothing except to buffer a few egos.

And who were the MPs who were paid Rs 15,000 to just over a lakh for asking questions? Were they important enough names? These nobodies suddenly got notorious fame as "the dirty eleven." I can lay a bet that even if they were not bribed and were told they would be given some media coverage, they would still have done what they did. The sting operation only helped make scapegoats of a few unknowns to let the real sharks march around like saints. A whitewash job has never been simpler.

The real scoop was this, and it had been reported in this newspaper: The television channel gave the sting operators about Rs 58 lakhs. Less than Rs 10 lakhs was spent on the entire operation. The bribe amount was less than Rs 3 lakhs. Other expenses were about Rs 5 lakhs. The equipment was available on loan. Was the balance money returned to the TV channel? Does anyone know?

There should be transparency regarding sting operations too. Jaya Jaitly, who ought to know, had made an interesting comment, that it would be honest if a person went to these sting operators and told them that someone was taking money for asking questions or getting things done; the snoops could then accompany the person and catch the culprit in the act.

Journalists and TV channels use soft targets. Politicians, film stars, gangsters are already in the public eye and no one assumes them to be aboveboard, anyway.

There is the myopic notion that only political pressure plays a major role. Politics is easy game if you want to camouflage the bigger scourge — commercial considerations. Would these brave-hearts do a sting operation on industrial houses, many of which are run purely on the ability to bribe their way for licences, prime land, modifying export-import policies to suit them?

Would they do a sting operation on cultural organisations or famous "respectable" artistes who get special privileges? What about nominated MPs from the "world of arts" who use their position to further their personal causes? What about NGOs that misuse foreign funds? What about media houses that take money from socialites to promote them?

Are these sting operations themselves unbiased? Who is sponsoring them? It is facile to believe that the market decides who calls the shots. Do you have any say in what you get to watch? We are being told that truth can only be reached through a spy camera. The public is a victim of such auto-suggestion. They are all faking it, honey, for only bees really know how to sting.


  1. One word: Business. Sadly, the media is doubting it's own powers. It has ended up being a profit industry, not that I have anything against that. But there is only so much that you should stoop.

    People love to watch somebody else fall. They love to have someone to point fingers at and condemn them, more so if that person is someone who is in a better position than them. The media, these days, only caters to their need. This is aggravated by the innumerable 24x7 news channels. Demand and supply.

    Going slightly away from the topic, on one news channel once they aired a 'sensational' story of how a car was running without a driver (for almost half the day). How self-demeaning is that? Recently, there was 'Breaking News' that Katrina Kaif has come to visit Salman Khan in jail. What??? Some how everything is breaking news these days. My friend remarked once that someone would assume the channels name to be 'Breaking News' because of the incessant use of the tag. But then that too is the same business strategy. Sad.

  2. I don't believe it is the job of the media to run kangaroo courts and do the government's job. As I said, they will not touch the big industrial and media houses.

    Re. your off-topic (it isn't really), it is sickening the way they went about covering Salman's release. I was away and had access to only a few channels. Aaj Tak had the audacity to announce, "Hamare patrakar chhapaa-chhapaa maujood hai", as though they were on the trail of some crime. They followed his car and gave a blow-by-blow a/c. And the funniest bit was, "Sallu ki Ammi aur Abu ab wahaan pohunchne hi waale hai"! This channel has won a few awards as the best Hindi NEWS channel.

    And since I was pretty much unaware of things at the time, the first time I saw Sanjay Dutt on horseback, I thought he was taking his baraat...till I read the caption about his visit to Vaishnodevi.

  3. blog
    Very touchy article...an eye opener, indeed.


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